A Wine Lover’s Diary, part 354: To the Arctic!

Monday, August 1: The Beck van driver called me at 5:30 am to say he was downstairs. I ordered the car for 5:45 am hoping for that extra 15 minutes’ sleep.

My 9 lb. pike

Stowed my fishing gear and duffle bag and picked up Art. Then went on to pick up Larry. At the airport we joined Sam, Harold and Steve for our annual fishing trip – catch and release using barbless hooks. This is my fourteenth year with these guys and this year we’re going back to Petersons’ Point Lake Camp 200 miles north of Yellowknife. To get there we have to fly to Edmonton and then on to Yellowknife, where we overnight at the Yellowknife Inn. This gives us an afternoon’s pike fishing in Great Slave Lake before the Twin Otter takes us to the camp next morning. Had lunch at the hotel – a hamburger. The server brought horseradish instead of mustard because “that’s what Chef sent out.”

We arrived in rain but the weather turned fine once we were out on the water. A forty-five minute boat ride to Cabin Bay on Great Slave Lake. I caught 7 pike between 4:30 pm and 7 pm; the largest was 9 lbs. Larry got a 14.5-pounder. For shore dinner we drank with the pike fried in cornmeal, beans, pickles and bread a magnum of Domaine du Château de Puligny Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières 2007 and a magnum of Château de Beaucastel 2003. The rain started just as we put a foot on the dock.

Tuesday, August 2: Up at 5:45 am. Maggie Peterson and her daughter Amanda had prepared a champagne breakfast, which we ate on a picnic table by the Air Tindi float plane airport – stuffed eggs, bannock, strawberries and grapes with two bottles of Veuve Clicquot.

A champagne start: the boys flanked my Maggie and Amanda Peterson

Tania, the camp chef

We flew the 200-mile trip in a Twin Otter (“Fly the Burgundy Tail”), arriving in time for lunch prepared by the camp’s new chef, Tania: turkey vegetable soup and sandwiches, a delicious meal that augurs well for four weeks of fishing on Point Lake. Accompanying lunch – D’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings 2001, a Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah blend, and Two Hands The Bull and Bear Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2002.

Fishing in the Coppermine River in the afternoon I caught a couple of trout, one 10 lb. and one 18 lb., both on a Five of Diamonds Junior Huskey lure. Steve, my fishing partner, caught 7, including a 21 lb. None of our fish was under 10 lbs. – another good sign for the week’s fishing. Our guide is John, an RCMP inspector whose detail protects dignitaries in Toronto.

Before dinner, a glass of Highland Park 18-Year-Old Malt Whisky with Steve’s smoked fish pate and chicken liver pate. Dinner: smoked meat from the Centre Street Deli in Toronto which Steve transported up, with potatoes and braised cabbage. The wines: Burge Family G3 2007 (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Grenache), Torbreck “The Factor” Shiraz 2001 and Turley Petite Syrah (sic) Hayne Vineyard 2000.

My cabin shared with Sam and Harold

Wednesday, August 3: 11° this morning. Up at 6:30 am and put on the T-shirt of the day. We have a wardrobe of fish T-shirts with ribald legends. This trip is all about traditions. I share a cabin with Sam and Harold, as I have for the past 14 years. Every day we change fishing partners and Steve cooks shore lunch. I am the designated sommelier and historian. Breakfast today is omelette, turkey sausage and toast.

The boys in their T-Shirt of the day

The guides (l-r): Sam, Reuben, George (seated), John, Jack, Chad

In the morning we fished around Sand Island about 40 minutes from camp. I’m fishing with Sam today. Our guide, Reuben, is a retired safety inspector of potash mines from Saskatchewan who has taken up wildlife carving and competes in local and national competitions. Reuben’s fishing philosophy is: “The fish are never too far from the kitchen or the bedroom.” Not sure what to make of that.

In the morning I caught a 9-pounder and a 15-pounder and lost a really heavy fish. Back in the dining room is a board on which they mark all fish 20 lbs and over. I have yet to make the board. Lunch today is Steve’s beer-battered fish; it’s always the first shore lunch, another tradition. The accompanying wines are Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1999, Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turkheim Muscat 1994 and Brewer-Clifton Seasmoke Chardonnay 2005.

Chad Peterson checks the water temperature (56° F)

After lunch Chad Peterson went swimming in the lake – 56°. It transpires that the ideal water temperature for lake trout is 55°, which is also the optimum temperature for cellaring wine. In the afternoon we fish around 58 Pound Rock, the place where the record trout was caught – 58 lbs. I caught nothing in the afternoon and the only consolation was that Chad was “skunked” too.

Back at camp by 6 pm and a sauna to ease aching back muscles. Dinner: chicken maple curry, basmati rice, sweet potato and carrot, cabbage and salad. The wines: William Selyem Pinot Noir Weir Vineyard 2000, Torbreck “The Factor” Shiraz 2001 and Charles Melton Shiraz 2009. Dessert: Pavlova and 10-year-old Cheddar. Wrote a limerick for George Kimmel, a Texan who has been coming up to the Peterson Lodge since 1989, missing only two years. In addition to the Canadian and American flags, Chad also flies the Texas flag, which looks somewhat like the flag of Puerto Rico. George drives up every year from El Paso. His role is loosely defined as “Assistant Chief Flunkie” and he is looking for a promotion to become head flunkie.

If you aspire to be a Peterson flunkie
You must swear you’re not a Texas junkie
You get to sous chef for cooks
And fish without hooks
To show the world you’re nobody’s monkey.

George Kimmel explains fishing

Thursday, August 4: 10° this morning. A breakfast of French toast and maple syrup. Fishing with Larry today and Sam, a retired carpenter, is our guide. I caught one fish in the morning, 5 lbs. on a Five of Diamonds. Great excitement as Sam caught a 46 lb. lake trout on a Five of Diamonds. Art helped him land it.

Sam's 46 lb trout held by John Milner

Lunch: Blackened fish, fried potatoes and onions and yellow beans. The wines: Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1999, Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Brand 1998 and Trimbach Gewurztraminer Reserve Personelle Vendange Tardive 1983. In the afternoon I caught four fish while the other boats were hauling in the trout on pixie lures. I felt like a hitter in a slump, watching my team mates hitting while I was striking out. Chad has an amazing collection of humorous T-Shirts which George has brought him up from El Paso. The one he is wearing today has the logo of Warner Bros with the legend, “If you see de police, warn a brother.” For dinner Steve cooked racks of lamb, which we consumed with a magnum of Pahlmeyer Merlot 2001, Tardieu-Laurent Côte Rôtie 2000 and a bottle of Quinta do Noval 1985.

Friday, August 5: Breakfast: waffles and Aunt Jemima syrup. Today I fish with Harold. I caught 5 fish all under 10 lbs. (and am beginning to despair of ever making the 20 lb. board). We have shore lunch on a property they call Pig Pen’s, a metal cabin that is owned by two Americans who are never there. The key is hanging outside and someone has left a $10 bill and a note saying that they had used some pancake mix. Outside, saw a rodent the locals call a sic-sic. It looked like a marmot.

Steve's trout pasta

Lunch: fish pasta Neapolitano with Brewer-Clifton Seasmoke Chardonnay 2005, Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1996, Pahlmeyer Chardonnay 2004 and Antinori Guardo al Tasso 1997. Chad’s T-Shirt today reads: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day” (Fish 24:7).

Caught two fish in the afternoon, one 16 lbs. I’m still not on the board but it’s a beautiful sunny day. I’m fishing in a T-Shirt. Dinner: turkey, mashed potatoes, turnips, Chinese salad and beetroot. The wines: William Selyem Pinot Noir Mendocino 2001, William Selyem Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard 2002. With the white truffle pecorino, Zamorano and Stilton, a bottle of Lafaurie-Peyraguey 1989.

Saturday, August 6: Breakfast: scrambled eggs and bacon. Another hot day with the lake like a mill pond. The water temperature is rising to 57°. Fished with Steve, caught three trout in the morning on a Ruby Red Eye lure and the trusty Five of Diamonds. One got away using a pixie. Steve caught three trout trailing a fly behind the boat. Lunch: Wild West Fish (in a whisky marinade, soy, brown sugar, molasses, oil and pepper), beans, potato pancakes. The wines: Brewer-Clifton Seasmoke Chardonnay 2005, Trimbach Gewurztraminer Reserve Personelle Vendange Tardive 1983, Trimbach Selection des Grains Nobles 1983 and Burge Family G3 2007.

Larry's bait

Three fish in the afternoon, one a 16-pounder. Larry caught a 31-pounder. Steve hooked a fish that John the guide estimated to be 40 pounds but it spat out the hook as he tried to net it. Beginning to despair of ever making the board. Dinner started with a Bloody Mary made by Larry. Boeuf bourguignon with noodles, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli salad and Chinese salad followed by trifle and coconut cookies.

Sunday, August 7: Scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. Chad’s T-Shirt: “Juarez, Mexico” over a revolver; underneath – “It Ain’t Kansas.” Today the lake is so flat it looks like a mirror with the shoreline reflected perfectly in it. I’m fishing with Art today. Reuben is guiding. Art’s tradition is to take a swig of Crown Royal when he catches his first fish. He calls it a “L’chaim.” It’s really hot, about 27° or 28°. Caught six fish this morning, one weighing 28 lbs. I’m on the board!

My 28-pounder that got me on the board

Lunch at the outpost, two circular metal buildings and an outhouse whose door has been ripped off by a bear. Wasabi-crusted trout with wasabi mayonnaise and fried rice. The wines: Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1999, Remoissenet Meursault-Poruzots 2006, D’Arenberg The Irone Stone Pressings 2001 and Turley Zinfandel 2000. In the afternoon I caught four fish, including a 27-pounder. The fishing goods smiled on my today. I took the 28 lb. on a silver and blue Husky and the 27 on a Five of Diamonds Junior Husky. A sauna to celebrate the day. Dinner: Wild rice, turkey and artichoke salad with Two Hands Lily’s Garden Shiraz 2002, Drouhin Clos des Mouches 1999 in magnum and Taylor’s Vintage Port 1970.

Monday, August 8: Scrambled eggs, sausage, toast and peanut butter for breakfast. Today I fish with Harold, and Chad is guiding. A cooler day today with a wind that whips up the waves. Five fish in the morning, all under 10 lbs. Went an hour without a bite and chad said, “You’ll get one at the point.” And I did. This is our last day of fishing and Steve prepares his traditional bouillabaisse, a meal we all look forward to. To a base of broth he made at home he adds mussels, shrimps and scallop and finally the trout in small pieces. This is poured over garlic toast and spiced up with rouille. Someone forgot to pack the plastic wine glasses so we’re forced to drink out of Tim Horton’s cardboard coffee cups: Zind-Humbrecht Brand Riesling 2008, Remoissenet Meursault-Poruzots 2006, Remoissenet Puligny-Montrachet Les Folatières 2006 and William Selyem Piont Noir Coastlands Vineyard 2001.

The lake got rough and choppy in the afternoon. I caught four fish, including a 15-pounder. On the very last cast Harold and I had a double-header. The ride back to the camp was an adventure. We got pounded and I tried to use my arms and legs as shock absorbers for the hour-long trip. We passed five canoes making little headway against the wind. Dinner: Roast tenderloin of moose, Arctic char, roasted sweet potatoes, mixed vegetables and, for dessert, Blueberry Grunt (made from blueberries George had collected from the wild bushes). The wines: Burge Family G3 2007, Two Hands Lily’s Garden Shiraz 2002, Turley Zinfandel Moore “Earthquake” Vineyard 1996, Hugel Homage pour Jean Hugel Gewurztraminer Selection des Grains Nobles 1981.

Tuesday, August 9: Breakfast of toasted muffin, fruit and Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Reserve. Packing up to head home. We fly to Yellowknife and lunch at Bullock’s, a Yellowknife institution known for its surly service but great fried fish and chips. I had deep-fried cod, chips and salad and a Chilkoot Lager from the Yukon Brewing Company. The owner of Bullock’s apparently owns a vineyard in Nova Scotia.

Bullocks Bistro in Yellowknife

Flew to Calgary and then to Toronto. We left the Northwest Territories in sunshine and arrived home at midnight to a lightning storm.

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