If you want to catch lots of walleyes, including an excellent chance at fish over 10 pounds, we recommend a winter ice fishing trip to Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba. We first told the story of this fantastic walleye fishery several years ago. Since then, we've returned every year and have caught hundreds and hundreds of walleyes, including several over 12 pounds.
Lake Winnipeg is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, it runs 250 miles from north to south, although the present fishing is in the southern lake basin, just north of the Manitoba capital city of Winnipeg. Because of its size and its vast shallow basin—it mostly ranges from 10 to 20 feet deep —many anglers are puzzled about how to find fish. We asked In-Fisherman contributor and expert Winnipeg angler Roger Stearns just how he does it.
"When we're starting from scratch our initial moves are about a mile," he says. :"Drill some holes and monitor your electronics as you fish. If we don't catch or mark a fish in 15 minutes we move another mile. Two-hundred-yard moves on a lake like Lake Winnipeg are nothing. In fact, making small moves while attempting to make initial contact with a school of walleyes is a good way to quickly waste a day."
Once they find fish, Stearns stresses the need to try read their attitude. "Say we are marking and catching some fish," he says, "but only every third fish or so bites. The fish are close to bottom and don't go for aggressive lure movements. We might catch 6 fish in 45 minutes and mark plenty of others.
"Once the bite really tapers off, a small move is in order—say 40 yards or so. We're dealing with neutral to negative fish that are just milling along. They may have just fed or they are waiting to feed when they find baitfish. Meanwhile, we haven't marked baitfish. We run into this scenario a lot. It often takes these fish 3 hours to move 200 yards. To follow fish like these I usually have my partner move with me, but if we're in a group of three or more, we often leave one guy behind as we move. If we get into them again and they're biting better, the stay-behind guy moves to our location. Occasionally, the school reappears under the angler that was left behind."
Now say they find neutral fish mixed in with aggressive fish. They're marking fish on bottom and suspended anywhere from 2 to 6 feet off bottom as well.
"The high fish usually are easy to catch with aggressive presentations," he says. "These are the fish that often go for lipless crankbaits—and the bottom fish often also stay under you and when you work on them with different presentations you often can get some of them to bite.
"So, say two of us put 15 fish on the ice in about an hour. If we're not marking many baitfish we probably hit the tail end of a baitfish collision and the fish are still on the hunt. Suspended fish are hunting fish—and while they may stay in an area for a time, they're likely to be moving, looking to get back into contact with the bait.
"When we move in this instance it's at least 75 yards—sometimes 150. Again, the activity or lack thereof below is all unfolding on our electronics and we're always trying to get a sense which direction the fish are drifting. If there's two of us, one moves and the other stays behind. With more partners, one stays behind while the others move and search for the main part of the school."
Sometimes Stearns and crew get on a really aggressive school. There's baitfish on their screens and they have fish on the bottom and suspended all through the water column, including right under the ice. Stearns: "It wouldn't be unusual to put 20 or more fish on the ice in an hour when we're on aggressive fish. When the bait starts to disappear and the bite slows, we move 100 to 200 yards looking to find these moving fish.
"Again, leave someone behind for a bit if possible. The beauty of fishing on Lake Winnipeg is that you never know when an even bigger school of fish is going to move in from a different direction."
Always nice to have a little intel on where the fish have been. Bait shops and other sources can shorten the time it takes to get on fish. Gathering such information before leaving home is a vital part of fishing.
Donovan Pearase, blackwatercats.com; Guide Lee Nolden, 204/738-2342; Guide Jason Hamilton, jasonhamiltonoutdoors.com
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