If you're a trout angler, you have to love the fact that Manitoba's massive Lake Winnipeg, one of the best walleye fisheries anywhere, and the finest winter walleye fishery on Earth, lies smack dab in the middle of the province. Winnipeg's popularity draws attention away from the extraordinary trout fishing opportunities found in every other corner of Manitoba. And these gifts come wrapped in so many wonderful ways.
From far north fly-in opportunities for mammoth lake trout and football-shaped speckled trout, to some of the best central and southern drive-to waters for rainbow trout, brown trout, splake, and tiger trout, Manitoba is a trout fisherman's dream.
Let's not forget, too, the amazing variety of ways you can catch trout here, including everything from trolling with downriggers and wire line outfits to casting with spinning, baitcasting and fly fishing gear. Then there is the seasonality factor. You can trout fish from early spring to late fall and throughout the winter months.
Is this crazy good or what?
"With over 100,000 lakes, Manitoba is famous for its far north fly-in fishing for lake trout and speckled trout," says long time guide and provincial fishing consultant, Ryan Suffron. "Gods River and Hayes River offer phenomenal speckled trout opportunities for both the fly fisher and hard-tackle enthusiast. And if you head to the Hudson Bay coastline, you can get in on some of the most ultra-remote opportunities for both resident and sea-run specks. My favorite wilderness rivers are the Manihook, Mistikokan and Kaskattama."
It is funny listening to Suffron extol the virtues of these spectacular speckled trout fisheries, because so many of them lie adjacent to the province's best lake trout lakes. Big Sand Lake, Nejanilini Lake, Kamuchawie Lake, Gods Lake , Bolton Lake and Kississing Lake have been on my "bucket list" for years. So now I am wondering, how can I combine a trip to catch both species?
When I mention this to Manitoba guide, Dave Kozyra, hoping he can help me solve my dilemma, he only adds to the predicament.
"There is no question the trout fishing is great in the far north," Kozyra says, "but don't forget about the epic 'still water' opportunities you can find much closer to home.
"My favourite area is the Parkland Region of western Manitoba that is littered with carefully managed pothole-size lakes that are full of trophy-size rainbows, browns, brookies, splake and even tiger trout. The variety and size of fish make it a marquee destination for anglers from around the world."
Manitoba trout fanatic, Jon Hyrchuk nods his head in agreement, noting that splake, the unique speckled trout/lake trout hybrid is his favourite fish to catch in the Duck Mountains.
"Splake have the appetite and ferocity of lake trout," says Hyrchuk, "but they tend to feed in shallower water, like speckled trout. That makes weed beds, beaver dams and beaver lodges great spots to look for them.
"If I was to select two presentations for splake, I'd recommend jigging a four-inch white tube jig during the winter months and casting or trolling a large crankbait during the open-water season."
Suffron, too, is a still water trout aficionado, confessing to a particular love affair with "big bows."
"There is no greater challenge than fly fishing for rainbow trout that exceed 26-inches in length," says Suffron. "I've been fortunate to land several over 29-inches in the southern part of the province. The only trouble is the more I catch, the more they fuel the fire."
Suffron targets the gorgeous flaming red rainbows with full floating and intermediate sinking lines and presents his flies extremely slowly.
"Long leaders with a dropper fly and point fly maximize your success," Suffron notes. "Another important key is locating the active part of the water column, which is almost always within two feet of the bottom. Various micro and standard leech patterns take up the majority of space in my fly box, but I also carry a token selection of midge, caddis, scud and backswimmer patterns."
Kozyra, on the other hand, prefers spinning tackle to target Manitoba's trout, noting that day in and day out, you'll catch more and bigger fish adopting the "keep it simple" principle.
"I love casting 1/8- to 1/16-ounce white marabou and bucktail jigs around wind blown gravel shoreline, underwater points, pencil reeds and any sunken wood I can see," says Kozyra. "I stick with a 7-foot long, medium-light-action rod and spool my reel with 8-pound test braid. I always tip the main line with a four foot long leader comprised of 6-pound test fluorocarbon line."
If you don't think it can get any better than this, well, have I got news for you. The same lakes that produce so many trophy trout in the open water season, deliver up as many or more in the winter months.
"The only trouble you have in the winter time," Kozyra chuckles, is deciding where you want to fish. There is the Whiteshell to the east, the Parkland region to the west, the Turtle Mountains to the south and the Footprint region to the north.
"I especially enjoy taking my wife and kids ice fishing. I set up a pop-up shelter and turn on a small heater for them. Then I drill a couple of large holes inside the tent so we can watch the trout swimming around. Outside, I will drill some more holes and set lines with bells attached. The kids love running around as the bells start jingling. Every winter they catch some amazing trout and make memories that will last a lifetime."