Fishing the Dalton Trail

[Note: The following was first published in the February 2015 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]

Copyright © 2015 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.

The all-terrain-vehicle (ATV) trip was more akin to a roller coaster than a ride through the Yukon wilderness; but here we were speeding down a trail in a side-by-side that was throwing our bodies this way and that, only our seatbelts keeping us in the vehicle. Our guide Hardy Ruf was not wasting any time on the trail. There was fishing to be done and the bright and beautiful July day was well underway. It was obvious Hardy had been on this trail many times before, knew every twist, turn and mud hole and was enjoying the wild ride as much as we were. The trail led through a hilly mixed-wood forest to a beautiful, pristine lake where a boat and motor were waiting. If the 45-minute roller coaster ride wasn’t enough to get the blood flowing, the view of the remote lake surely was. What followed was a pleasant day of fishing for lake trout and grayling in an outstanding wilderness setting with not another person in sight.

Yukon lake

Great outdoor adventure awaits in the Yukon.

The Yukon is legendary for its great and varied outdoor adventures. My wife Betty and I seldom pass up an opportunity to go there; and sure enough when Duane and Adrienne Radford suggested we accompany them to the Dalton Trail Lodge last summer, we jumped at the chance. One of the best ways to learn about the Yukon and have the best opportunities to catch fish is to book a stay at one of the many wilderness lodges in the territory. The Dalton Trail Lodge is one of the best, offering a wide variety of fishing opportunities in rivers, creeks and lakes for many species of game fish, including Chinook and sockeye salmon, lake trout, northern pike, Arctic grayling and rainbow trout.

Dalton Trail Lodge

Dalton Trail Lodge

The lodge is indeed located along the old Dalton Trail in southwest Yukon, which played a role in the Klondike Gold Rush back in the 1890s. Today the Haines Highway, running from Haines Junction in the Yukon to Haines Alaska, follows much of the same route. The lodge is located across the highway from Kluane National Park. Although you can drive to the lodge, if you are coming by air, staff will pick you up at the Whitehorse airport and transport you to the lodge, about a two-hour drive.

Hardy and Trix Ruf and family have owned and operated the lodge since 1987. Originally from Europe, they were impressed with what the Yukon had to offer and realized the potential for providing services to people from around the world wanting a wilderness experience like the Yukon can provide. As a result you will hear several languages spoken at the lodge. Regardless of where you are from, everyone is treated as a special guest.

Dalton Trail dining room

Dining room at Dalton Trail Lodge

The lodge is not your typical wilderness fishing camp (few Yukon lodges are). At Dalton Trail everything is first class, from the rooms, each with its own bathroom, to the world-class gourmet meals in the dining room. However, the biggest attraction for the angler is the variety of fishing adventures offered. You can fish some local streams and lakes on your own or you can choose to take one of the many guided trips to more remote destinations. The guides are top notch, many returning year-after-year because of the good working conditions and their dedication to the Yukon wilderness.

Salmon fly fishing

Duane fly fishing for salmon.

One of the attractions in June and July is fishing for Chinook salmon migrating up from the Gulf of Alaska. On our first day at the lodge, guide Allan took the four of us on an ATV trip to a spot along a river where the salmon come close to shore. While Duane waded out into the water to try his hand at fly-fishing, the rest of us fished from shore using salmon roe, what had been recently providing the best results. However, the salmon were not cooperating on this day. Except for Duane. He was able to entice a nice Chinook to rise to his streamer and he landed it.

Daune's Chinook

Duane’s Chinook taken on a fly.

Being close to their spawning grounds, these fish are not in the best shape to eat. So Duane released his fish to continue up the river to spawn. In general, the policy at Dalton Trail is to release all fish—as is the custom at most northern lodges to conserve trophy-class fish in slow growing environments. However, if you want to sample some fish either as a shore lunch or an appetizer before dinner, you can arrange with your guide to keep some of non-trophy size. The chef at the lodge is more than happy to prepare an “appy” for you, and it is worth making the arrangements.

Another advantage of using a lodge in a remote area like the Yukon is that the lodge provides all the equipment, such as boats, motors, ATVs, trucks and trailers. Most lodges will also provide fishing gear if arranged ahead of time. This reduces the amount of equipment and gear you have to bring and broadens your fishing options.


Betty with a nice Arctic grayling taken from a Yukon lake.

This point was driven home when we went to a large remote lake deep in the wilderness. This lake is subject to windy conditions and a large boat capable of safely handling the waves is a must. As well, because of the lake’s distance from the lodge, it was an overnight trip and the lodge has a comfortable cabin on the lake for the purpose. This allowed us to fish for trophy lake trout and pike in honey holes the guides knew very well, all in a true wilderness setting. And yes, we kept some smaller trout for succulent appies cooked over an open fire.

lake trout

The author with a trophy lake trout.

In July you must fish deep for lakers. I’m accustomed to using downriggers for this purpose, a complicated system using a cannon ball to get your lure deep in the water while trolling. Our guide Allan showed us another system using lead-core line that gets your lure down without having to deal with a complicated mechanism while letting you be more sensitive to a strike. The system worked well as we caught many large trout.

The lodge caters to all kinds of anglers, from bait-casters to fly fishers, as well as people who just want to explore Kluane N.P. and environs. Many of the rivers in the area provide excellent opportunities for fly fishers. However those opportunities are often difficult to access without a jet or other river boat. Dalton Trail’s guides know these rivers well. One day guide Bill showed Betty and me some of his favorite places to fly fish for grayling and native rainbow trout along a beautiful river coming out of Kluane N.P. We had a magnificent day sharpening our fly-fishing skills with pointers provided by a seasoned fly fisherman, catching many eager fish and enjoying the stunning Yukon scenery.

The biggest difficulty you will have at Dalton Trail is deciding which trips you should take among the many offered. Some of the fishing packages are listed on the Dalton Trail Lodge website but you can also design your own by contacting Hardy and staff, through the website. Let them know what type of fishing you like to do, and they will help you plan your trip. Each evening at the lodge, they will discuss with you the next day’s trip and what you will need to take.

As on any trip, cost is an important consideration, and Dalton Trail is not the least expensive of lodges. However, when you look at what is being offered—from the accommodations, meals, equipment, quality guiding services and fishing experiences—you pretty much get what you pay for. Above all, you will have a unique Yukon experience that will make you want to come back for more.

Comments are always welcome (below).

Interested in reading an award-winning outdoor adventure novel? Check out  The Search for Grizzly One and Dog Runner.

About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in Alberta, Canada. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
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