Many dangers await a traveler in Labrador’s northern wilds, but angler Jim Sollecito managed to brave them and may have brought back the world’s largest fly-fished Arctic char. Sollecito, who owns a landscaping nursery in Syracuse, New York, traveled to Canada’s remote Tasiujak Lake in late July. Along with friend and veteran angler Dennis Oullette, Sollecito found the area the perfect place to relax and unwind from civilization—if it wasn’t for the local bear population.
“We were 150 miles north of the last settlement or outpost in Labrador,” Sollecito told OutdoorHub. “We never saw another person or evidence of another human being the whole time, except where a guy had been pulled out of his tent by a polar bear.”
Sollecito’s group had the help of an Inuit “bear monitor,” who advised the group on all things bear-related. One of the tidbits that Sollecito learned was that a rifle shot over the head of a polar bear will not amount to much. The animals hear the sound and keep coming.
“You shoot between its legs,” Sollecito said.
Lacking a rifle, the unidentified camper instead opted to put up electric fencing around his tent. It did not prevent the polar bear from tearing through the tent and attacking the man.
“We heard he was from Maine and had gotten mauled pretty badly,” Sollecito recalled.
With that somber thought in mind, the group was careful to stay clear of any bears. Even the black bears in Labrador can be quite large—Sollecito spotted several big ones during his stay. Accompanying Sollecito and Oullette were Keith Richardson (who piloted the float plane that took them to Tasiujak Lake), Richardson’s son, and their friend. The anglers planned on scouting a good five miles around any potential fishing site via helicopter for polar bears before landing and casting. Black bears, on the other hand, would not be a problem until later in the afternoon. A dog was kept around the camp as an early bear-detection system.
“Everything was there for the run of char,” Sollecito said. “The seals were there for char and the polar bears were there for the seals and the char. Everything is related to char. If we could see char, that means that predators were there as well. It was char-ming.”
What was not so charming was the lack of fuel in the area. Primarily a caribou hunting ground, the fishermen found that the closest sources of fuel had all but dried up in the absence of hunters.
“It was even more worrisome than the polar bear at times,” Sollecito stated. “This is an area that typically hosted caribou hunters, but because there were no caribou herds there were no caribou outfitters, no restaurants and bars. Hotels were shuttered.”
More complications came when the group found themselves grounded by fog for the first four days of the trip. Spartan living and uncompromising weather are obstacles that meet any adventurer willing to brave the edges of the world, but for the anglers, their reward came in Arctic char. When the fog had cleared and Sollecito was able to take the helicopter out to a local river, he found that the water was teeming with fish.
“You’d look at rocks and they were actually all char,” he said. “The water was as blue as windex.”
It was on the final day of the trip that Sollecito hooked his potential-record fish. He and Oullette hopped off the helicopter in an area where they knew there were bears, but they expected nothing extraordinary outside of some good fishing. Oullette made a number of good-sized catches, but his 10-pound test tippet was struggling to keep up with the large fish. Sollecito, who had a 12-pound tippet, waited for the large char to congregate.
“The crazy thing about char is that they do not jump waterfalls, they swim them, so you can imagine how powerful they are,” Sollecito said.
When he finally cast, he knew he had hooked a big one. The resulting 18-minute battle was exhilarating for Sollecito, who up until that point was catching 14- and 15-pound char.
“What I observed is that when you’re fighting big fish out of the water, they’re more likely to come towards you,” Sollecito said. “If you stand in the water they’re gonna see your legs and stay further out. [...] I was out of the water and pressuring him to go up and he all of a sudden swerved towards me, and that’s when I beached him.”
There, beside the water in northern Labrador was a 17-pound, eight-ounce char. It would handily beat the 17-pound fish currently holding the fly fishing record at the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). As a two-time world record angler, Sollecito felt confident that he had nabbed the record.
The anglers kept the fish in the water and piled rocks over it so polar bears would not catch the scent. All that remained was to wait until the helicopter showed up in a half hour. Of course, the anglers’ ride came three hours later. By that time Sollecito was increasingly worried about bears, and almost made a drastic choice.
“(The helicopter) was two-and-a-half hours late. We knew if the helicopter didn’t come we would have to eat my potentially-world record char. That would have been a very expensive meal,” Sollecito said with a laugh.
The fish was then transported back to camp where it was weighed and a record application was sent to IGFA. Sollecito already knew all the steps, his previous records include a catch-and-release chinook salmon caught in upstate New York and a Spanish Mackerel from the Florida Keys. The Spanish Mackerel record still stands.
Now back in New York, Sollecito looks back fondly on his memories of Labrador and a pending world record. He told OutdoorHub it is not entirely the memory of the fishing that he dwells on, but the adventure.
“This was fishing where no man has fished before,” he said. “These are uncharted waters unreachable except by plane. The Inuits don’t fish there, they fish by the ocean where they could put out their nets. It was virgin and pristine.”
Images courtesy Jim Sollecito