Giant Walleyes on Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba
February 01, 2017
There's no forgetting the first appearance of an emerald-hued greenback on your line, flipping its massive head side-to-side like an enraged bull.
This is no golden-tinged, cookie-cutter "pickerel" that's typical of so many Canadian waters. You've hooked into the Incredible Hulk unleashing a torrent of rage and power!
That Manitoba's Lake Winnipeg hosts behemoth walleyes is no surprise. The vast Saskatchewan River system, known for growing some of the largest walleyes on earth, flows into Lake Winnipeg and exits northward to Hudson Bay. So the genetics are certainly there for producing outlandish 'eyes. Add in Lake Winnipeg's own fertile environment, and the planets align for trophy walleye production.
The iridescent green tinge so prevalent among these fish is apparently not genetic, but is most likely due to the fertile limestone substrate surrounding the lakebed.
Few anglers ply Lake Winnipeg's vast, shallow, windswept waters in summer, due to the lake's massive size and treacherous nature. On a good day, it's no problem. On a bad day--it's perhaps best to remain on shore, and fish twice tomorrow.
Beginning in late September, however, nature throws the odds in your favor. Mega-schools of huge fish begin migrating southward toward the mouths of the tributary Red and Winnipeg Rivers, making fairly predictable runs up toward the dams. The more current flow, the stronger the runs and the larger the numbers of fish. The weaker the current, the more those schools tend to remain in the big lake.
Anglers troll diving crankbaits, or vertically jig large jig & shiner or jig & soft plastic combos along current breaks. In years with strong current flow, greater numbers of fish concentrate in more easily accessible locales. The weaker the current, the more fish tend to remain in the immense main lake.
When winter arrives, some of the best trophy walleye fishing on earth kicks into high gear. Admittedly, things can get mighty frigid, with air temperatures of -30 F not unusual. Early and late winter, however, conditions can be more comfortable.
Ice fishing here requires a systematic grid-search technique, due to the lake's immense size and featureless basin. Proceed offshore, pick a starting point, drill a swiss-cheese pattern of holes, and fish a few minutes. If you don't get bit, move a ¼- mile, drill more holes, and repeat the process. Don't sit and wait, because fish might not pass beneath your holes for hours, days or weeks. Keep moving, drilling, dropping and jigging until you find biters.
The edges of large sandbars or other subtle structures may collect moving fish. Note, too, pressure ridges of buckled ice; those ridges extend as far beneath the ice as they do above, funneling migratory walleyes and baitfish along their paths.
Pick a depth—say 10 feet, and try awhile. Move a hundred yards toward shore, and try again—even as shallow as 5 feet. Or father offshore, out to 12, 15 feet or more. Good areas often have at least a subtle depth change of a foot or so in a hundred yards; in this featureless environment, a seemingly minor change is in reality a major one.
Go big and bold, lure-wise. Jig lipless crankbaits like Salmo Chubby Darters, Live Target Shiners or Clackin' Raps. Add large softbaits to jigs or multiple minnows to jigging spoons. Clip overhead spins onto jig eyes, add rattles, or attach chatterbait-style vibrating lips. Generate noise and vibration to attract roaming fish from afar. Remember, they're huge; no bait you can fit down a hole is too big for them to eat.
The search element requires teams of anglers on snowmobiles coordinating their efforts to locate active fish. Plus GPS mapping units to form grid patterns, and to safely find you way home in a white-out blizzard. Top-notch clothing to withstand the elements is also a must, plus sleds for towing gear and portable shelters for fishing in nasty conditions.
Lake Winnipeg is the third-largest lake in Canada at 9,400 square miles. Even limiting your search to a tiny portion of the lake is a huge undertaking.
Most ice fishermen originate out of the mouths of the Red or Winnipeg Rivers, or from the town of Gimli along the southwestern shore.
Come spring, nomadic walleyes move up the rivers to spawn, later dispersing back into the immense lake for the open-water season. Longline trolling large diving crankbaits is perhaps the best way to locate and catch them. It's a needle-in-a-haystack adventure, but the potential rewards are incredible--hulkish--and ever so green.
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