There’s a spot by Pontoon Lake, a 20-minute drive from Yellowknife along the Ingraham trail and a five-minute walk over soft, spongy moss down to the water, where the trees block the view of the road, where eagles glide overhead, and where, if you cast a line, you’ll catch a pike. Even if you’re new to fishing and have no idea what you’re doing. On my second trip, I caught three of them, panicked, and promptly released them. Luckily my wiser fishing partner caught a few, filleted and barbecued them, and they were the best I’d ever tasted.
That’s the thing about living near hundreds of accessible lakes—you don’t need to be a born fisherman to bring home dinner. And if you don’t have the time (or a fishing pole), on any given day you can head to one of the docks in Old Town and give one of the Buckley brothers a call to see what they’ve got. Or you can call up Great Slave Fish Products Ltd., known colloquially as the fish plant, and either Brian Abbott or Henry Jewer will pull up in their boat minutes later with a bag of fillets. In the winter, when Great Slave Lake is frozen, the plant itself, a long white warehouse nestled among Yellowknife Bay’s iconic houseboats, is just a two-minute walk or a quick drive from the docks.
And the fish always tastes incredible. Coldwater fish is fattier, and fat equals flavour. But there’s also something deliciously therapeutic about catching it, or talking to the people who catch it, that transcends taste. “Its the peacefulness and the freedom,” says Shawn Buckley, who grew up with a fishing rod in his hand, working with his father and brothers on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake every summer. “Being on the lake on a calm day, so pristine and beautiful, nothing can match that.”
You can reach Shawn Buckley at 867-875-8077 and Brian Abbott at the fish plant at 867-446-2953.
Whitefish burger with juniper aioli, morels and arugula
Makes 6 burgers
Recipe by Amy Lam
2 fillets of whitefish, cut into thirds
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cornmeal
½ tsp salt
½ tsp of cayenne
Oil for frying the fish
1 cup of dried morels
2 -3 tbsp of butter
2 garlic cloves
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp vegetable oil
12 – 15 juniper berries, crushed
Freshly ground pepper
6 kaiser buns
A few handful of arugula
Fish: Beat egg in a shallow bowl. In a separate shallow bowl or plate mix the cornmeal with salt and cayenne. Dip each piece of fish into the beaten egg, drip off excess and coat with cornmeal. Fry each side on med-high heat for 2-3 min.
Morels: Soak dried morels in boiling water for about 30 min to rehydrate. Drain and squeeze out extra liquid (you can save the soaking liquid for soup stocks), slice lengthwise into small strips and sauté in melted butter over medium-low heat for 10 min.
Juniper aioli: Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt using a large heavy knife or in a mortar and pestle. Whisk together yolk, lemon juice, and mustard in a bowl. Combine oils and add, a few drops at a time, to yolk mixture, whisking constantly, until all oil is incorporated and mixture is emulsified. (If mixture separates, stop adding oil and continue whisking until mixture comes together, then resume adding oil.) Mix in the crushed juniper berries and season with salt.
Assembly: Assemble each burger with one piece of fish, 1 tbsp of aioli, a bit of morels and arugula on a Kaiser bun.