Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Not the Easiest Day Out There

The time had come for what I hope is becoming an annual trip to the Red River for the fall walleye run. Our initial trip had to be cancelled due to work commitments but we made it out a week later. The days were getting shorter and colder, the wind had been blowing for a week from all different directions and to top it off, the locks had been opened fully making an already dirty river even dirtier. Everything was stacked against us and the reports were not looking good but we didn't care we were going for our chance, however slim it was, at a trophy greenback.

We left for Selkirk at 3:30 in the morning and made it to the launch with lots of time before the sun was due to shine. With the boat quickly prepped and in the water we were the first ones out there. The fishing was phenomenal the previous year at a spot away from the crowds and it was decided that was where we would start. The water clarity and current were not in our favor, but we needed to give it a try. Regular jigs, flasher jigs and knuckleballs tipped with frozen shiners or chubs were used with some rattle baits as well. A few missed bites and two solid hook ups with something heavy but both were lost on the way up. A handful of boats had gone by, but nowhere near the numbers we saw last year. It was in our best interests to try and find better water clarity so we headed north.

On the frigid ride north it was clear that the opened locks had turned a lot of folks away from the Red for a while, many possibly went to Pine Falls where reports had been better. The shores however were as packed as last year but no one seemed to be catching. The wind was still blowing at least 30 kmh as we stopped in a sheltered slack water area to try our luck. We spotted a few bald and golden eagles perched in some tree tops as different depths were tried but not a bite, and barely a mark on the electronics. The water looked the same as down south so on we went further north.

Our next stop was just past the mouth of Netley Creek where it turns out we should have launched from, as the water was slightly clearer.  There were more boats out this way but it didn't look like anyone was catching. We anchored up in 15 feet of water and the current was a little stronger than we would have liked, it was almost 11 am by now and not a fish in the boat yet. By this time last year we had easily caught and released over 100 fish with a handful of nice keepers in the live well. After 15 minutes with out a bite I suggested we move closer to shore anchor up again and wait it out, so that's what we did.

It wasn't long before I missed a bite and then Jay landed a bullhead, soon after that another one. We hoped that was a good sign and boy was it ever. "Yep, net!", Jay blurted out, I reeled in quickly and grabbed the net and instantly there it was, a beautiful jade green walleye.  "Shouldn't you play it out a bit?" I asked. "Hell no! Get it in the net!" was Jay's response, so that I did. Scooped up and in the boat I couldn't believe how heavy it was, this was the biggest walleye I had seen in person but am well aware they get bigger than this. Hook out and measurements taken, it was 28 and 1/8th inches, a few quick pictures and off it went. The fight was so quick and water so cold, once it was released it shot off with vigor. There wasn't any hooting or haulering, but the excitement was there and shared quietly, however the brief photo op attracted a few near by boats to pull anchor and come closer.

When a fish like that is landed it really gets the blood flowing, even if you weren't the one fighting it. Not long after, a goldeye, a few sauger, some bullheads and a larger burbot than last years trip were all caught and released by the other two guys in the boat. Burbot are so cool! This is a species I hope to target in the future. As for me, well I was still fishless, missing bites and losing a jig to one hammer of a bite off. At this point I was coming to terms with getting skunked, at least we had seen a few fish landed. But what about those eater walleye, the nice 16 to 18 inchers, where were they? Certainly not where we were as the other two in the boat landed a 24 and 26 inch walleye within thirty minutes of each other.

After a lull in the action we pulled up anchor and moved a few hundred feet, it was there we found some eaters. Finally another hook up on my part and boy did it fight, head shakes and short runs it was hard to tell what was on the end of my line, although it did not feel like a giant. Up came a 16 inch walleye, no skunk stripe for me!! We continued fishing until around 5 pm with a few more eaters kept, but a very slow day all in all. One last kick at the can before ice up would be great but if that was it, we made the best out of a very tough day on the Red.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Fall Weekend in the Whiteshell Part 4

Our last day and another cold morning. As we made it to the lake, the water was still as glass and the mist was rolling across. The chill in the breeze worked better than coffee to wake you up. The previous morning the bite slowed once the sun passed over the tree tops so we felt our optimal time was limited. The surroundings were so breathe taking it was difficult to pay attention to our bobbers, with each moment passing it seemed a new view was provided.

A few small trout were caught right off the hop followed by some misses as we watched a grebe hunting in the bay. As the surface feeding seemed to die down I changed over to a spoon and it wasn't long before a nice 18 inch brook trout hammered it. I was ready for the fight and savored every moment, knowing I may not be back any time soon. With time ticking on and the sun passing the trees, we went back to the cabin to pack up. Cabin cleaned up and car loaded we were off to try a different lake for a while.  The drive there was a reminder of how fast things can change, in the short time we were there the leaves had changed colour just slightly.

As soon as we approached the waters edge we could see and hear the bald eagles across the lake, there were three of them each in the tallest tree tops. Two of them seemed to be jutting for position swooping at each other, winnieing and screeching as they fought. Again it was difficult to focus on the bobber with an abundance of beauty around us. We could have spent the day there had it not been for life's responsibilities, we needed to get home before dark and make a stop in the city as well.  One last stop where my wife lost the big one at our most productive lake for a few more brooks and rainbows and sadly it was time to go.

One of the bonuses about the lay of the land in the Whiteshell is with some of the smaller lakes, one might be windy and another may not be depending on wind direction and lake positioning. Not owning a boat or canoe,  I am usually willing to try and travel to multiple spots near by in the same day if action at our first choice is not ideal. The sights, the smells and the lack of people and bugs in fall was a treat, we plan on trying to go back at least once every season and possibly with a canoe or kayak.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Fall Weekend in the Whiteshell Part 3

Our next morning brought frost and a layer of ice on the car windshield, the sky conditions were the complete opposite from the previous day, clear and not a cloud to be seen. We made it to the lake with 45 minutes before sunrise, still light enough to fish though. Beyond casting distance a rainbow trout of decent stature breached multiple times, it seemed everywhere you looked a fish was breaching or surface feeding.  We repeated the process from Saturday with a few small rainbows and brooks caught and released before the sun broke the tree line, with the bite slowing down as the sun rose. It was agreed we would head back for a snack before fishing some more, so I took one last cast with a spoon and I had the pleasure of landing my personal best 18.25 inch brook trout, a good fight that probably scared off any fish in the area.

After a quick bite to eat we decided to head to the Whiteshell river in between West Hawk and Caddy lakes. The trail in is a self guided interpretive one, and after about 30 minutes of scenic hiking through the forest and over and down the rocky surface we arrived at the trout stream. This is strictly a catch and release area, and is used by some novice fly fishers to hone their craft. What a cool place! This experience was honestly one of my best times fishing yet, I forgot we were in Manitoba for a while, it could've been BC or Montana for all I knew.  Pristine crystal clear stream, fallen logs and rip rap areas leading to deeper pools, I knew as we approached that the trout would see us before we saw them, luckily if we spooked a pool, there was another one near by to try.

It was here our lighter set up was useful. Multiple lures and flies produced, but they had to be small. My wife and I started by each working a different pool with different tactics, I used a small fly and she her go to lure, both producing about equally. After hiking and trying multiple areas downstream catching and releasing rainbows and brookies in almost every pool, we headed back near the first area to settle in. We made a point of casting in all the previous pools as we went back having great success. Clear sky, barely a breeze, no one in sight, not even a piece of garbage, we continued to fish for a good hour with a few double headers as well. We landed well over a dozen each and agreed it was worth the hike. Small trout on light tackle is a blast!

After a great meal we were off for 90 minutes of fishing before dark, we approached the shore quietly and took care to stay low to the ground avoiding any shadows we might cast.  It wasn't long before we began to see trout surface feeding and soon after that a brook trout took my offering. I had an ear to ear smile as the fish fought, it wasn't a giant but it was determined to stay away from shore. Soon after my wife landed another an inch or two shy of twenty as well. Catching these brook trout for the first time and good numbers of them was a true pleasure. In the spirit of learning and trying different lures I changed over to a spoon again and began to cast out. after a few casts covering some different areas I hooked into and landed a nice 18 incher. The brook trout fight with such voracity and I now know why so many anglers enjoy pursuing them.

With no sign of the one that got away the previous day and one last chance the next morning, the sun had set and we were forced to retire for the night.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Fall Weekend in the Whiteshell Part 2

My wife had not landed a fish yet, I had mentioned maybe she should downsize her presentation, but she refused. She changed over to her go to bait that has done her well on multiple species and bodies of water and it was not long before she got her first bite. Hook set and the fight was on, line peeled off her reel and she tightened the drag, this was clearly bigger than what I had been catching and I think I was more excited than her. In my mind I had serious doubts she would land it as she was using a setup more appropriate for a small trout stream than a lake, but with the help of a good angler that rod and line had landed fish that it should not have before.

The water being as clear as it was, we were able to see the fish many times making the fight even more exciting as it would run to a sunken tree or head to a rock pile. After a few more runs and lots of thrashing we finally netted my wife's very first brook trout, it measured out at 19 and 1/4 inches, we snapped a few photos and quickly released it to fight another day. The smile on her face says it all, she had cracked a code that we would soon see would pay off and produce all weekend, clear sky or cloudy.

After that fish we changed over to stronger rods and line, the action had slowed since the fight had ran all over the area we were fishing.  We caught a few more small trout and decided to break for lunch.  A quick snack and we were right back to the spot that had produced for us earlier, still cloudy and a little cool but steady action of small rainbows and brooks.  A lot of our hits were coming out of a very specific casting area, I began casting small spoons and cranks missing a strike or two and then it happened.

To fast to comprehend my wife's bobber went under and she reeled in the slack and set the hook.  Instantly the bobber headed out towards the middle of the lake, the sound of line peeling and the wake of a wave the little bobber and fish beneath it made got my heart pounding. She tightened the drag and reeled as best she could but it just kept going, at least 200 hundred feet of ten pound line had been taken and the end of the spool was in sight. Before one of us could react with a last ditch effort to grab the line it snapped off the reel and the beast was gone. Silence ... I could feel my wife's heart break, I have been spooled a few times in the past, typically in rivers where the "what was it factor?" is huge. Carp, drum, catfish, sturgeon and pike are just a few of the options.  This lake was a trout lake, no pike, no carp etc, she had just been played by one beast of a trout, a fish of a life time trout. Maybe more experienced anglers would have had a better chance, but really I don't know.

We kept fishing until it was time for supper, I knew on the drive back to the cabin that after we ate it was in our best interests to go back for the hour before dark. A quick drive back and that call payed off with a few small trout caught and released and my wife landing a personal best 17.75 inch rainbow trout that put up an awesome fight. With the sun down and plenty of fish landed and lost we headed back to the cabin for a hot tub and a few drinks.

Fall Weekend in the Whiteshell Part 1

This October my wife and I were given a 3 night stay at a cabin at West Hawk Lake.  The weather
forecast was not looking promising, but we were determined to make the best out of our time away, whether it was warming up in the hot tub or freezing solid at day break fishing. After a brief stop in Winnipeg, we were on our way east, the drive out was pleasant and we arrived in the Whiteshell a little earlier than our check in time. We decided to try our luck fishing off a dock for a while catching stunted perch and small chubs, while taking in the surrounding beauty. After over a dozen very small fish we decided to check out our cabin at Tall Pine Lodges.

Settled in and unpacked, we took a scouting/sightseeing drive around the area. Driving down the
winding roads we found trail heads, possible shore fishing spots for the weekend, and an abundance of  deer. The fall colours were in full force, the white trunks of birch topped with bright yellow and
dulling orange stood out amongst the dark greens of the fir, cedar and tamaracks. With a few hours of daylight left, we decided to spend 45 minutes hiking half of the Dragon Fire trail at the campground in town. It leads you up and around one of the high points near the lake giving some great vantage points with a few interpretive signs about the history and creation of it.

The next morning was a slow start, the weather cool and clouds covering the sky, we did not make it out at daybreak, but the days events would motivate us to do so our next few days. After coffee and some sight seeing, we made our way to a trout lake to test our luck and tackle, and that is exactly what happened.

The water was crystal clear and wind direction in our favor as we were protected by the tall trees at the spot we chose. My wife started by still fishing and I thought I would toss a spoon or two. It wasn't long before I had my first strike and a missed hook set, a good sign none the less as this let us know we were near some fish. A few feet down shore and I got my first glimpse of a Whiteshell trout, a sudden flash caught my eye in the shallows and I was instantly intrigued and lowered to the ground. I made a cast past that direction and as my spoon came through where i saw the fish, I got another bite and set the hook. The fight was brief yet feisty, I thought it was a rainbow but as it came out of the water i was pleased to see my first ever brook trout. Nothing huge, but a new species and I was ecstatic, the colours popped, tiny red spots with blue halos on its sides and squiggly dark camouflage on its back, the white lines on its fins were pristine.

Being motivated to try different lures and techniques, I changed over to a fly under a bobber with some small split shot to get it down. A few cookie cutter rainbow trout were quickly  caught along with a few small brook trout, again no big ones, but extremely fun and an entertaining fight on light tackle. The rainbows really took to jumping out of the water over a foot and head shaking trying to spit the hook.

Now on the note of light tackle, I knew some decent trophies have been caught on this lake, but the general consensus was a lot of small hatchery fish get caught. I was under the impression that our chances at a trophy were slim to none being we were limited to shore spots, so we were using light line and light rods. We would soon learn, as we had in the past, there is always a chance at a trophy when fishing in Manitoba even if it is minimal, and you should be prepared.