Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fall time is mooneye time!

 Ryan Suffron shows how it's done!
As summer starts to wind down fishing usually tends to slow a bit. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year in a number of our lakes, rivers and reservoirs. High water in many parts of our province, including the Whiteshell Provincial Park, has kept many of our freshwater game species in shallower water than usual. In high water years there are some key spots to find species like walleye, smallmouth bass and pike. One of my favourite fishing locations involves two key elements, weed edges and current. When you combine those two, fish will congregate in large numbers. In hot weather both of these provide much needed oxygen for the fish along with some temperature relief. These fish can be using water depths of two to five metres of water and will hit jigs flipped along the edges. It’s a fun way to fish but requires some boat control along with concentration to present your lure properly. When the weather is really warm I love to troll crankbaits into the current areas. This can be incredibly effective in many of our rivers in the province like the Winnipeg River, and the Saskatchewan River at Grand Rapids.  In most cases, fish are not necessarily deep. I can usually get away with a # 7 Flicker Shad either in white or fire tiger colours.
 Grand Rapids walleye
The nice thing about this presentation is the control you have with your lures. By pointing the bow into the current you can work current seams and edges, keeping your lure in the zone for longer periods of time. Many time the fish will either turn to grab the lure or swim up behind. When this happens your lure will get pushed forward before you feel weight.  By presenting your lure this way, you are also reducing snags, especially in areas that have a lot of boulders. With the bill of the crankbait digging down in the current, it will bounce erratically off the rocks, triggering strikes from even inactive fish.
While walleye, pike and bass are the main target species for much of the year, mooneye come into their own from mid-August to mid-September. They are an incredibly fun fish to catch on light tackle or a fly rod.
 Hungry mooneye swallows a leech pattern
These fish are in extremely abundant numbers on the Winnipeg River and I can remember spectacular days catching them when I guided out of Eagle Nest Lodge. Most of the places you find mooneye are not far off of the same areas I have just talked about for walleye and bass. These fish love to form huge schools off the edge of current breaks and back eddies. They will also use bays next to heavy current, especially if the bottom is mud. It’s here you will get a late season caddis fly hatch, a preferred food of these veracious predators. Ever looked into the mouth of the mooneye, or goldeye for that matter, an impressive set of teeth for sure!
One of the best ways to find these fish is by using your eyes. If there is a hatch happening you will see them swirling on the surface, eating as much as possible in the shortest period of time. To avoid breaking up the school, keep your boat a distance away and drift a slip float on the fish rigged with small hook, split shot and piece of crawler. You can also use a small Mepps spinner or small jig rigged with a one inch power grub.  If you are more ambitious yet, try fly fishing for them.
Guide and expert fly fisher Ryan Suffron says be prepared to change depths when the fish are a little more inactive. Perfect conditions include a bright sun, and rising temperatures that trigger a hatch.
If using a fly rod bring two different reels, one with floating line and the other with a sink tip if you need to go deeper to dig them out. I have caught many crappies as well this way by using a fly weighted with a small piece of lead on the head. Try and use a fly that has some marabou on it, so it ripples in the current. One of my favourite looks like a miniature version of jig fly.
Mooneye are spectacular fare to eat when smoked. If you don’t plan on keeping the fish when caught make sure to leave them in the water to release. They are a delicate fish when handled and this will reduce mortality substantially. Mooneye do not have a gold eye, so this is the obvious difference between its cousin, the goldeye.

Sunday, August 7, 2016



We are well into summer now and by all accounts the fishing in most parts has been pretty darn good. I had a busy month with a lot of travel and some awesome angling. This despite unstable weather, rain, wind and intense thunderstorms.
The fish, for the most part, seem unbothered and ready hit anything that might arouse interest.

 Boyds ;spinner blade box!
HOT SUMMER PRESENTATION:   It’s still almost impossible to beat a bottom bouncer and spinner rig for summer walleye and even huge pike. On a recent trip to Tobin Lake, Saskatchewan, friend Boyd Holmen and I caught numerous walleye using this setup. We found the fish on a six metre sand flat scattered with a bit of sand grass and some sunken timber. By using spinners with floats and shorter snells we were able to prevent snags and get the bait in the strike window. The fishing was so good, in one area we had a fish on almost all the time. This presentation allows the angler to cover water, finding the most productive areas. I highly recommend this presentation for the novice anglers as well. It allows you to cover water efficiently and effectively with a minimum of hang ups.  While not as effective when fish are tight on small pieces of structure, it can’t be beat when fishing weedlines, long sand flats, rocky points and other places fish like to hang out when the water gets warmer. It pays to vary trolling speed and size of the spinner blade you might use. I like to use a double hook setup rigged with either a big nightcrawler or one ribbon leech per hook. Use a bottom bouncer heavy enough to keep the bait at a 45 degree angle. Then get ready to hang on for some great summer action.
 Boyd with a nice one!
Over the last few summers more and more anglers are starting to use lures normally found in their ice fishing boxes.  Many are using of a Jigging Rapala for open water fishing. Jeff Gustafson mentioned that the top pros had been using this lure on the walleye circuit for years when nothing else would catch fish. Since that time lots of videos and articles have been written on the subject but I don’t think a lot of anglers in this part of the world have bought in yet. My friends in Saskatchewan have been using a similar lure, the Shiver Minnow, on Last Mountain Lake in the summer and fall to catch big walleye and lots of them. These types of lures work best on sand or gravel bottom which means you won’t be snagging them in rocky boulders all the time.
 Pike like to get in on the action too!

-         In the summer using these lures most of the fish will be in the five to nine metre mark. This also allows you to watch your lure on the depthfinder. It won’t take long to determine if those fish will bite or not.
-         Fish the bait away from the boat at a 60 degree angle
-         Sweep the bait forward two to four feet at a time, then let it nosedive down to the bottom
-         You can cast and retrieve up and down drop-offs as long as there aren’t too many snags
-         It is a reaction bite and fish won’t hit them all the time but when they do you better hold on.
-         Use monofilament line, the stretch factor is needed so the fish don’t shake the hook.
-         Also must have an in-line barrel swivel a couple of feet up from the lure to prevent line twist
-         Lures come in various sizes but a size #7 will get you down to the bottom pretty quick.

I must mention thought, that the right rod is critical in using these type of lures. You want a longer rod, maybe seven feet in length with a soft tip and a medium action. This allows you to keep the fish on once hooked. While the hooks on these lures are super sharp, fish have a tendency to throw the hooks if you put too much pressure on them.  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A close encounter

 It was cool and dry in the mountains when we arrived on July 11th for our semi-annual fly fishing trip to the Crowsnest Pass region. Two years ago the streams and rivers in the region had been fairly high and fast. Totally different conditions greeted us this year and that was a good thing. Water conditions were relatively benign, with lower water levels and medium flow. In fact, when talking to Vic Bergman the first night, he said he was hoping for rain for the next couple of weeks in order to increase the flows a bit. Vic owns “The Crowsnest Angler” fly shop, a must stop in Bellevue. I have known Vic for years and he was to recommend us five key dry flies for our adventure. After spending some money, we headed back to the Highway #22 turnoff and away we went to the Livingston River. Here we would set up camp for the next few days of fishing in the region. Our first day of fishing saw us try “The Gap”, a very famous upper middle section of the Oldman River. Unfortunately angling pressure, along with rain and severe wind gusts limited our effort that first day.  Any attempt to get a dry fly into the wind was usually rebuffed in the section we were fishing. Our other team of anglers had picked a section in which they could cast down wind into the current. As a result, they caught more fish than us. Still, another lesson learned and adjustments made so we were ready for

Day Two.

Friend Phil Brake and I headed out to a different section of The Oldman, one in which we really hadn’t tried in previous years. Wow, did we make the right call. In our second pool, Phil hooked a real nice cutthroat in the 20 inch range, that gave him a battle right to the end.  He was using a Pale Morning Dun, with a black ant dropper off the back. After that fish, I switched over to a Purple Haze dry fly with a black ant dropper. Wow, did that ever work!  Now both Phil and I had pretty much non-stop action for the rest of the day.

Purple Haze
While we still caught some fish on a couple of the other dries, this one proved to be number one this week.

Unfortunately for me my trip was cut short. Thursday morning I suffered chest pains and had to make a trip to the hospital. One week and one stent later I made it back to Winnipeg. I should be back on the water shortly though. Fast action by my friends at the campsite helped limit the damage. It also helped that one of my friends on the trip is a medical doctor. He got me aspirin and on the road to the hospital in five minutes after recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack. Thanks Gerald and Phil for everything you did!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Spring on the Mountain

Over the years, I have spent a fair amount of time on Last Mountain Lake north of Regina. This natural lake stretches more than 70 miles and is also known as Long Lake for this reason. It is the largest naturally occurring body of water in southern Saskatchewan, although Lake Diefenbaker (created by damming) is larger. The lake was named for a Plains Cree legend about the Great Spirit shovelling dirt from the valley the lake now occupies and forming Last Mountain Hills east of Duval. It was early June when I made the trek there this year, heading north from Regina past Craven on Highway 20 past Bulyea, Strasburg and finally Govan. 

Between these two communities is the highest point of land in the area for which the lake got its name. While I have fished the southern and central part of the lake this was my first visit to the far north end. For years friends of mine from Regina have been fishing this section for the first three weeks of the open water angling season. This year I was invited along for the ride and deluxe accommodation at Last Mountain Regional Park in a borrowed trailer.  Last Mountain Regional Park is a very functional park located on the shores of the north end. It has an outdoor swimming pool and plenty of spots to camp. It even has a nine hole golf course with sand greens. For us, there was no golf time because the walleye were biting.
 Boyds spinner rig box, Talk about organized!
 Boyd with Saskatchewan Gold!

 Purple blade got hot last day!

We started by checking out all the back of the bays, then worked our way out to find the larger schools of fish. By the end of the two and half days on the water, we had them fine tuned and our last evening produced non stop action along with some of the bigger fish of the trip. Presentation was  simple, just a spinner rig tipped with night crawlers and weighted with split shot. 

The deepest we caught fish was six feet so a couple of shots was all that was needed.
There was a bit of emerging weed growth but nothing to worry about

Spain on the fly

Recently, my wife and I had a chance to visit Spain. Unfortunately our schedule didn't allow us time to fish. A friend of mine, Ron Enns, had spent one day fishing in that country the year before and provided me this story.
 Ron with a Spanish brown trout
"In April 2015 I walked a large portion of the 780 km pilgrimage from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.  I am an avid fly fisher and there were plenty of trout in most of the rivers I crossed so I arranged to spend a day fishing the Cea River near Leon with C & S Fly Fishing Guides based in Salamanca.  Jose provided outstanding service — first driving 200 km to pick me up, arrange the complicated fishing licensing — based on region, river and target species, borrowing waders from a stout member of his fishing club, and providing a professional guide.
 It was a blustery day but the hatch was active for a few hours in the afternoon.  After identifying the hatch using a bug net — there was steady dry fly action with many brown trout landed in the 12 to 16 inch range.  One 24 incher was landed.  Later in the afternoon with expert coaching I successfully honed my nymphing skills.  As is usual when fishing we had “lunch” at about 6 pm. Jose told me that the best fishing in Spain is on the Tormes near Salamanca and is home to the oldest fly fishing club in Spain.  It was an outstanding day, a real education, and a classy outfit.
Connect with C&S through their website

A worthy advisary

After spending the first part of May out of the country, I was anxious to get back out on the water. When friend Jim Price invited me out to fish on Lake Manitoba, I was glad to head out even if it meant getting up at four thirty in the morning. Weekends can be a busy time at our many lakes and rivers, but upon arrival at Sportsmen’s Park at 6:30 we had the boat launch to ourselves. A busy place on any weekend, we were early enough to avoid the crowds. After launching Jim’s boat in the Whitemud River, we decided to try our luck upriver for walleye and the ever present silver bass or drum as anglers prefer to call them. After about three hours of covering water we caught four small walleye and a few silver bass. Our real goal on this day thought was to head out to the big lake and try our luck along the many sandbars that extend out from the mouth of the river itself. A brisk west wind was blowing as we ventured out through the channel into the lake. We could see the sandbars out in front of us and Jim trimmed his motor as we slowly wended our way out to a bit deeper water. There are times on the lake when the water drops, and these sand bars make it difficult to get out of the river.  We didn’t have any trouble on this day and soon we were in two metres of water. Yes, shallow water still but more than deep enough to catch the walleye and drum that are feeding on small shiners on these sand bars. Trolling in two metres can be a bit of a challenge but by using ultra small crankbaits we were able to accomplish our two main goals, cover water and catch fish.
While the walleye we caught on this day were all smaller males, not so the freshwater drum. Many we landed were in the two kilogram range. Later in the day as we headed north on the lake we got into a extremely active school of these aggressive predators. Suddenly the size started to jump up considerably. Then I hooked into an express train, with line melting off my level wind reel. Jim immediately put the front troll motor in anchor mode so I could make some headway on whatever was on the end of my line. When trolling for walleye I like using a three metre rod with a line counter reel spooled with three kilogram test Crystal Fireline.  Onto this is attached a small cross lock snap which holds up even the pull of a monster like I currently had on the end of my line.  As the fish got closer, I guessed it was probably a massive drum given the wild rolls and surges in the fight. Finally we saw it in the water and my knees got a little weak. Since Jim only had a small rubber net for the walleye, I was not sure this fish would fit in. Friend Dan MacRae managed to get the fish in the boat somehow, and it was up to me to try and control this beast. Big drum are not the easiest fish to handle, with a tough small mouth and really hard gill plates. After a bit of a struggle and a pectoral fin in my finger, (much blood) I was able to hold it up for a quick picture.

Not wanting to get beat up anymore, I released it over the side before measuring or weighing. Still both Jim and Dan agreed it was a rather large specimen of the species. It was certainly by the far the largest freshwater drum I had ever landed and made the opening day of fishing season a memorable one for me. This species is a worthy sport fish and I plan on spending more time in the future trying to catch them.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Three Ways to Catch Fish

Finding springtime walleye can be somewhat of a challenge depending on the kind of weather conditions we get in this part of the world when the season opens. Moving water is always a great equalizer as it attracts fish for a variety of reasons. The size of the creek or river you are fishing will also dictate how you might want to present your bait to be the most effective. On larger rivers, with strong current flow, a three way rig is a very effective way to go. This is a simple setup and one that can be extremely productive. The first thing you do is attach your main line to one of the eyes of the three way swivel. On the bottom swivel eye you will tie a short piece of mono, about a foot in length. Onto this tie on a relatively heavy jig rigged with some kind of soft plastic, like a boot tail. On the top swivel eye tie a longer leader, say about 30 inches. Onto the end of this you can add a nice light jig, say 1/16 of an ounce. In heavier current this jig will ride up off the bottom. Dress this small jig with a lot smaller, lower profile plastic like a Berkley Finesse Minnow. 

They key is to get a heavy enough jig on the lower line to get it down bouncing along the bottom. In heavier current, this will be the bait that gets the fish. In a bit lighter current, it will be the top trailer that will be the most productive. 
What’s great about this setup is that you can cover water. In almost all cases you will troll up stream with this, working the current seams along the sides of the stream or river. Walleye like to hold on the seams, out of the heavier water flow. It takes a lot less energy to hold out of heavy flow and allows them to capture prey on the edges of the current stream. This style of presentation is also great in the fall time on the Red and Winnipeg rivers when you are dealing with heavier current flows. Some of the top anglers will keep the heavy jig on the bottom and switch over to a crankbait on the top line. In the fall I also like to use a bottom bouncer in combination with a floating crankbait to get down to the edges of the main river channel, again trolling into the current. 
When trolling upstream, slower is better than faster when the water is cold. I like to sweep my rod forward and then drop backward as we move forward. 
As mentioned earlier, heavier flows will keep the fish closer to bottom and with reduced flows and clearer water, most of your bites will come on the top hook.
It also helps to have good electronics so you can spot those fish hugging the bottom. I use a Humminbird 899 and it gets the job done for me.
The first time I saw this presentation in action was more than 20 years ago when I was fishing with Al Lindner on the Winnipeg River in Ontario. It was April and the previous day Al and I had jigged up a bunch of big walleye using heavy jigs and large live minnows. Al bet me that night at the hotel he would catch more walleye than I the next day using the three way swivel set up with a floating # 13 Rapala than I and a friend would, using jigs and minnows.
As it turns out not only did he win, he annihilated us, catching five walleye to our one, a valuable lesson that I have kept with me over the years. In this case he used a plain drop weight off the bottom line and the #13 Rapala on the top swivel with about a three foot lead. This allowed him to contour troll and cover a large area looking for active fish. Since that time I have used a three way swivel to catch a wide variety of fish including some huge lake trout from Selwyn Lake. It was summer time and we needed to get our lures down to 80 feet were the fish were holding. I added a three ounce weight to the drop line and put on a huge gold Canoe spoon off the back. The wide wobble of this huge spoon turned the trick on some monster fish.  Once again a three way allowed me to get down to the correct depth. Give this system a try this year and you won’t be disappointed.

Anglers Notes: The opening of the fishing season in southern Manitoba occurs on May 14th this year. With a return to more seasonal temperatures this week, we should be good to go on that date. Water flows are bit lower in many rivers and tributaries due a slower melt in the southern half of the province. One of the great options we have in this province are our stocked trout waters. Last spring I visited the Duck Mountains in west Central Manitoba to enjoy some excellent success for large brown trout. Laurie Lake in the central section of the park, is a beautiful spot with trophy splake to go with along with the brown trout with some bonus lake trout thrown in for good measure. On the first day we caught them long line trolling floating Rapala’s then on day two I fished with Ryan Suffron of Alpine Country Outfitters. This time we were fly fishing with equally good success. That’s the great thing about angling, there are so many ways to successfully catch your target species.