October 13, 2022
Check out Part 1 of this series to better plan your ice fishing adventure. Top Monster Ice Walleye Destinations Part 1
#3 LAKE WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA
-- Driving distance from Chicago: 910 miles; 14 hours
-- Driving distance from Minneapolis: 500 miles; 7 hours, 30 minutes
Lake Winnipeg ace guide Jason Hamilton got his start nearly a decade ago by helping longtime guide Lee Nolden with a trip here and there. Today he’s one of the most sought-after big walleye experts in the sport.
“Lake Winnipeg is one of the best places to find and catch a number of 30-inch walleyes in a season. The average fish, at 18 to 22 inches, is nearly a pound heavier than walleyes found elsewhere, a testament to the massive schools of shiners in the lake. Fish in the 24- to 26-inch range are common catches and anglers have a legitimate shot of catching a Manitoba Master Angler-size ‘eye (bigger than 28 inches) any day of the week. And each year fish in the 15-plus-pound range are caught,” said Hamilton.
Best Time to Go
Although it’s become popular for visiting anglers to concentrate on early and late ice, Hamilton said big walleyes can be caught all season long.
“The big fish are there and can be caught. But a shift in tactics is required after January 25th and through early March. Large numbers of fish are moving into the area around the mouth of the Red River in March, making for hot action, but the last several years my best action for big fish (over 28 inches) has been in mid-winter. I’ve changed from the usual run and run on the lake and am now sitting on travel routes where fish are making daily moves up to a half mile.”
Big Fish Spots
Hamilton says large scale seasonal movements are the best rough predictors of fish location on the lake.
“And this depends on flow from the rivers, water clarity at freeze up, position of commercial nets and ice ridges, Winnipeg is a fairly featureless lake and any bottom irregularity will hold fish; sand ‘waves’ formed from fall storms parallel to sore offer travel routes. But often, above ice structure (like ice ridges) are the best concentrator of fish.”
He continued: “A lot of the search mode is simply presence vs absence of marks on the Vexilar. I can often go back to spots, slow down and catch fish, but I like to find three or four areas with schools of fish and then refine a strategy from there. As the popularity of the fishery has skyrocketed in recent years, areas can get crowded and vehicle noise will shut fish off in the relatively shallow water. It’s best to be away from the crowd if you are looking for consistent big fish action.”
Mainstays are lipless crankbaits, large flutter spoons, smaller jigging spoons and jig and minnow combos.
“As a first timer or weekend angler, I would suggest starting pit by moving a lot and finding fish before setting up. Fish fast with large sponsor rattle baits,” said Hamilton.
For rods and reels, Hamilton uses 36- to 42-inch medium-heavy rods, 10-pound test braid and 10- to 15-pound fluoro leader material terminated with a snap swivel. The fluoro leader is ted on with a tiny “ant” barrel swivel to minimize bait twist and also provide a strong junction.
“I use a fluoro leader approximately the length of whatever the ice thickness is; this lets you guide the fish’s head up the hole in shallow water with multiple treble hooks.”
Guide or No Guide?
Hamilton sumed up fishing Winnipeg in two works: Think safety.
“Winnipeg is a huge lake with some of the worst ice movements one can imagine. Even in cold weather, it takes a long time for the lake to set up and freeze relatively solid. Next, you need quality and reliable transportation. A battery booster pack, tow straps, and shovels are standard equipment. As is a GPS; make sure to mark places you cross ice ridges and areas of bad ice. Wind is a constant on the lake and it does not take much to create a whiteout. It is a harsh climate that will leave a lot of your ice fishing gear in pieces if you don’t have a good packing system. A lot of thought and tinkering is necessary to have a gear management system that allows you to run and gun on Lake Winnipeg,” he said.
Recommendations? Until you have a trip or two under your belt, best to hire a guide like Jason.
For more info, contact Jason: https://www.bruinoutfitting.com/ NAME
Where to Stay
Sound Beach Casino in nearby Scanterbury is a popular choice with anglers, but book rooms months ahead because it fills up fast. Lodging is also available in the nearby towns of Selkirk and Pine Falls.
#4 LAST MOUNTAIN LAKE, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA
-- Driving distance from Chicago: 1215 miles; 19 hours, 15 minutes
-- Driving distance from Minneapolis: 810 miles; 13 hours
The father of Canadian walleye ace Tim Geni first took him fishing on Saskatchewan’s Last Mountain over 45 years ago. Since, the tournament pro has caught countless fish over 30 inches through the ice and open water on Last Mountain, including a former Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Catch & Release Walleye World Record (length).
Best Time to Go
“Early ice is always the best bite—generally speaking, from the first week of December into mid-January—about six weeks of really good fishing,” said Geni.
He added that there are numerous boat launch access points from one end of the lake to the other. They are normally kept open and lowed when the water is frozen and safe.
How to Catch ‘Em
Geni encouraged anglers to look for fast, rocky drop-offs near 20-22 feet mud flats.
“Some of the breaks might be as deep as 20 down to 60 feet. And while I know there are fish deep, I concentrate on the top of the break. I’ll sit on a break in the early morning and evening and run and gun in the afternoon,” he said.
In terms of presentations, Geni fishes either a PK Spoon or PK Flutter Fish on a lift-drop routine, punctuating the cadence with an occasional hang on the bottom.
“Then, when fish come into the sonar cone, you need to slow things down and half-speed it once you get their interest so you don’t spook them.”
During tough bites he’ll add a minnow head or fish eye to the spoon treble for scent. In terms of colors, he’s a big fan of Red Dot Glow/Nickel back, Firetiger/Gold back, and Pearl Chartreuse.
“There’s just something about Pearl Chartreuse during early season. Guys on Last Mountain and Lake Winnipeg swear by it,” he said.
Geni uses medium and medium heavy Jason Mitchell and Dave Genz rod combos spooled with 6-pound fluorocarbon for its near invisibility in clear waters, sometimes stepping down to 4-pound when the bite is really finicky. When fishing deeper or outside in the wind, he switches to 8-pound FireLine Crystal for better bite detection and solid hooksets.
Where to Stay
Because there are no nearby resorts open in winter, he said most anglers stay in Regina, Saskatchewan—under an hour from prime fishing grounds. The Best Western Seven Oaks in North Regina is right off Hwy. 11 (Louis Riel Trail) and is only 10 minutes from the airport, should you fly into fish. Contact Tourism Regina for additional options.
What to Bring
Geni urged anglers to be prepared for cold, harsh and windy conditions.
“Your outerwear needs to be top-of-the-line. You also want a good thermal shelter and plenty of propane for your heater.”
For more information on the Last Mountain monster walleye bite, contact Tim Geni at email@example.com.