Monday, March 23, 2015

Harrop Lake Outpost- Spring is just around the corner!

Hard to believe but in 32 years of full time fishing, including the making of a 156 episodes of The Complete Angler television show I had never been to a fly-in outpost camp. I guess call me spoiled but when we did our visits it was always the American plan five star plan. So when I agreed to host a trip for five people to Harrop Lake Outpost as part of a fundraiser for a worthwhile cause, I had no idea what to expect. Owned by Jacksons Lodges and Outposts, this camp was an hour and fifteen minute float plane ride from the docks of Adventure Air at Lac du Bonnet. Located on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, Harrop Lake is part of the Pigeon River system, a fact that contributes to the excellent fishing for pike and walleye all season long. I have done a lot of work with Shaun Jackson over the years, including visiting his lodge on Amphibian Lake a few years back.

Shaun and his father Bob have been involved in the lodge industry for a number of years now and have steadily built a mini empire. While Bob prefers to stay and host anglers at Harrop Lake these days, Shaun is busy flying and dealing with a myriad of guests that visit one of the 20 outpost camps they now run.
Since I really had no idea of what to expect upon arrival I had done some homework in advance. Trina, who runs the bookings let me know what the camp had and didn’t have. This is important for novice trip goers to these remote locations to understand. First of all, most camps do not have fish finders on their boats. Packed on this trip was my Humminbird and portable battery pack and charger. Second, I made sure to bring along a portable rod holder to make trolling a much easier proposition. Ever tried holding your rod, handling a tiller motor in wind while netting your buddies fish? Well if you have, you’ll know what I am talking about. Most of the other stuff is common sense but if you value your rods and reels, make sure you have cases for both!
THE TRIP:   After quickly loading the Turbo Otter, we were off on our three day adventure. Most of the guys had been on a fly in trip before, but the excitement of new water always turns on the juices. As we swooped into the dock, we were met by Warren who quickly had us to our big luxurious cabin that slept eight.

We were a bit overwhelmed by the accommodations. This cabin had a built-in deck with dining table, as well as a huge dining table in the main building plus a deck with two barbeques and a deep fryer.  Since at an outpost you are responsible for your own meals, we were amazed how well equipped the kitchen was. It had every pot, pan and utensil needed plus a few more. There were two fridges and a freezer full of bagged ice. Not only that but the generator that powered the camp ran 24 hours…and believe me that is relatively rare even at five star camps. This was the lap of luxury, plus you could make up your schedule and fish as long as you wanted.
Speaking of which, in no time flat I was down to my 16 foot Lund getting it set up to my liking. We only had to fish two to a boat which meant lots of room and didn’t over tax the 15 horsepower four stroke Yamaha outboard.

Harrop is a medium sized lake which meant we could explore almost every corner fairly quickly. I don’t know about you, but this is maximum adrenaline time, when you first head out on new water!
Two other American anglers had flown in with us so I struck up a conversation with them. It turns out they had been to Harrop on three previous trips. They quickly passed out some tips on where to start fishing, which happened to be just five minutes from camp As it turns out it took us a little bit of time to find some fish, and then a bit more to get them to bite. We ended up in a small river that was connecting a huge shallow bay to the main lake. As I motored along, I found some deeper holes at the corners, water in the 12 foot range. Sure enough, I started marking fish on my depth finder. Putting the boat in neutral my partner and I started getting hits, then landing fish, mostly walleye.

Lo and behold this boat also had a good anchor! Now, again this is somewhat of a rarity and speaks of the attention to detail that Bob and Shaun Jackson put it into their camps. Soon all three boats were fishing in the same area, catching enough fish to make things exciting. Over the course of the next three days we caught a variety of fish, including a massive tullibee caught while jigging for walleye and fat yellow perch. Northern pike were everywhere while the walleye were using narrowed down areas that had rock rip rap bottom. This would make sense given that they were just in the process of spawning.

The biggest pike of the trip was caught tight to shore using a small yellow and red Williams Wabler but a lot of the northerns were grouped in among the walleye so you never knew what you would end up with on your line. Overall it was a great trip, at a camp that had all the feel of a full American plan lodge.

For more information on the different lakes you can try with Jacksons visit their website at

Saturday, March 21, 2015

SnoBear Migration 2015

An incredibly strong March sun was beaming down on the frozen surface of Lake Winnipeg as hundreds of vehicles streamed out to experience some of the best angling for trophy walleye in the world. Watching all of this and standing beside me was Bob Izumi, Canada’s most famous angler. We were taking part in an event called the “SnoBear Migration”. Izumi was totally impressed by the angling effort that was taking place before his very eyes. With easy access onto the lake via Warner Road on the southwest corner, many anglers were in four wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles or All-Terrain Vehicles.  Not Bob and I though, we were going to hop in one of the 35 SnoBears that had made the trip here from all over North America.
 Bob and Don getting ready for a great day of fishing
While Izumi owns his own machine, I was going join Mario Nozzarella, the head of distribution out of Fargo, North Dakota. I had first met Nozzarella at the St Paul Ice Fishing Show before Christmas. He was sitting in his Special Edition SnoBear, outlining the improvements his production team had made to these recreational vehicles over the last couple of years. They were first introduced in 2006 and since that time, these machines have grown steadily in popularity, despite a fairly hefty price tag.  Friend Kevin Stobbe and I spent an hour talking to him at that show about these unique vehicles. Mario also invited us to the Migration, held out of the community of Gimli, the middle of March. Now the day had come and we were looking forward to this adventure first hand.
We got a bit of late start that morning as Nozzarella lined up a number of the SnoBears for a group photo, an impressive sight to say the least. Soon SnoBears were heading out to their fishing spots in all directions. In our group was SnoBear owner Ron Balzer in his custom 2016 model.  Painted like a tiger in orange and white with a head on the front cover, this was easily the most distinguishable vehicle on the lake.  Balzer, a long-time owner of a SnoBear had decided to buy the company in 2011 and move it the next level. Balzer is from Regina, Saskatchewan and he also looks after the Canadian distribution.

Heading north from Warner Road, we had to find a place to get across a huge pressure ridge that limited access for those anglers in traditional vehicles. Not so for a SnoBear. We just eased over the ice ridge on our way to the middle of the lake. Nozzarella had also put me in the driver’s seat of his $100,000 vehicle, a totally amazing experience.  The day before I had been out on the lake with a couple of friends in a big four wheel drive truck. While we were able to get around somewhat, we got stuck once, and access to many areas was not guaranteed.
Not so with SnoBear, which just glided over snow ridges and large areas of slush with ease. With a cruising speed of 33 kilometres an hour it didn’t take long to get to our fishing area, a distance of about 15 kilometres from the landing.  We also didn’t have to worry about straying off course, even with me driving, because a huge GPS Map by Hummingbird was mounted on the dash.  Nozzarella was relating to me how this unit had saved him more than once on the big lake when gale force winds had whipped up the snow to an almost complete whiteout.  That’s why the SnoBear group loves coming to Lake Winnipeg. Its huge expanse allows the machines to shine. Really, this is the ultimate ice fishing machine, which allows you mobility and comfort in minus forty degree weather and whiteouts.
As we pulled up to our ice fishing destination Mario instructed me to put the nose of the machine into the sun. He says this allows the heat of the sun to penetrate the cab, adding a degree of radiant heat. All these units, though, have a forced air propane heater along with a thermostat to control interior temperature.
One question I always had with these machines is how to you drill the holes in the ice to line up with the four holes in the bottom of the floor of the machine. With Nozzarella now in the driver’s seat, he shifted the machine in low gear, lowered the hydraulic suspension and drove back and forth in a straight line to make marks with his tracks. Taking off the plastic hole covers, he then back the machine over the area he wanted to fish, marking the  four holes with a bit of his soft drink.  He then drove the machine forward and got out to drill the holes. Once completed, he then drove the machine back over the holes until they lined up. Finally, in order to keep the heat in, he inserted white plastic tubes down the holes of the machine to the augered ice holes. Talk about slick!  In each corner of the vehicle he had mounted a flasher unit. Once set up he dropped down the transducers into two of the holes and he was ready to fish.  And catch fish this man could. Not five minute later he hooked into the first of many walleye caught that day.

Ice fishing on Lake Winnipeg has become a multi-million dollar industry and many locals have begun to offer guided services to the thousands of anglers who are making their way here to have the chance to catch a trophy walleye.

Unless you have experienced it first hand, it’s tough to comprehend the interest there is in this trophy fishery. On the Friday we fished before the Migration, we talked to three guys who had come from Devils Lake North Dakota on their first trip here. They had already caught eight trophy walleye in one day of fishing. All mentioned that while their home lake is noted for its walleye fishing, they knew very few places in the world can offer what we have in our backyard. Let’s enjoy it while we have it and protect it has best we can.

Jumbo Perch in the Shoal Lakes of Manitoba

It was five years ago that I first heard about the fantastic fishing for jumbo perch on this shallow prairie lake. Having to check it out for myself the first perch I caught on East Shoal measured 38.10 centimetres or 15 inches.
I had never seen a perch this big before, never mind landed one.  I knew right away that this was a special lake and since that time the fishing has gone down a bit as more and more anglers make the trip. The important part in all of this is to remember to release those trophy fish. A perch that size is old, probably about ten years of age.
Yellow perch spawn once a year in spring using large schools and shallow areas of a lake or low-current tributary streams. They do not build a redd or nest. Spawning typically takes place at night or in the early morning. Females have the potential to spawn up to eight times in their lifetimes. While East Shoal Lake is relatively shallow, flooding over the last ten years has allowed the perch and pike to thrive and has prevented winter kill because of the improved water levels. North Shoal Lake and West Shoal Lake also have perch, pike and some stocked walleye. All of these lakes can be fished in the summer but access is not easy. A small boat is recommended.

PERCH WATERS; For years East Angling Lake in the Duck Mountains was the place for jumbo perch. The largest perch registered on the all-time Master Angler list is now 42.42 centimetres or 16.7 inches. It was caught by Kate Upton ice fishing in West Shoal Lake which lies a short distance away. All my trips over the last five years have been to East Shoal with access off of Highway 415. There are at least a couple of different ways to get on the lake but this has worked the best for me.

In some bodies of water, spoons and minnow parts work best for perch and in other bodies of water, especially prairie lakes, real small jigs tipped with bloodworms, maggots and shrimp work best. This is a forage preference. Perch in our prairie lakes fatten up on scuds or freshwater shrimp.
On recent trips I have been targeting those fish eating shrimp. Most have been in water less than nine feet so the use of my small tungsten1/16 G-WHOPPER JIG from Bentley fishing has been a perfect fit. It’s molded in the shape of an ice cube and has a “Swarvoski” crystal on the top of its head. This crystal provides a unique flash as it drops weight forward to the bottom. The square shape also allows the jig to rest on the bottom with the hook up. Tipped with a small orange power maggot from Berkley it proved to be deadly in getting big fish to bite.

When fish are scattered, calling them in from a distance can be the key. For that reason I like to use the Lindy Rattl’N Flyer jig. It has a sideways glide action and when dropped will disturb sediment on the bottom. This cloud will attract perch who think other perch are feeding on the bottom. On the last trip I would jig aggressively with five or six drops then hold the jig just off the bottom about a foot. Once I marked a fish I would twitch the bait and lift it to see the reaction of the fish on the Humminbird Ice 55 Flasher. On this day there was no hesitation, that jumbo perch would come up and inhale the bait.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Nestor Falls Crappies!

 Mike shows how it's done!
It was 1991 when I last visited Nestor Falls Ontario! Now that is a long stretch in anyone’s books but when I heard the crappies were back on the bite, I knew it was time to return. Friend Brent Kruger had lined up a two day trip with the owner of Sunset Cove Resort, Mike Gate. Mike and his wife Erin had purchased the resort three years ago, and have worked tirelessly to build up the business and update the resort and building. Located right on the shores of Sabaskong Bay, Mike has plowed a road down off his boat launch on the lake. He is out every day plowing the myriad of ice roads that lead to some of the best crappies fishing on Lake of the Woods. Back in 1991, the crappie fishing was tremendous, and Mike says the fishing has returned to that level.  Mike also rents out a number of heated ice shacks, making it real easy for anyone to enjoy the fishing, even if they don’t have the equipment required.

 On our first day there we explored large sections of the bay, first in two of his ice shacks, and then using our portables. While there was a fair bit of snow on the lake, Mike had a big blade on the front of his ¾ ton truck so access was not an issue. 
While the fishing was not hot and heavy, it was steady action and we had great fish fry that evening at Dave Walton’s, a friend of Mike’s who has made Nestor Falls his second home. I fished with Dave many years ago on Booster Lake before he sold his cabin there.  Dave said he was looking for something a little different and he and his wife Marnie love the new location. Brent and I really enjoyed our short time there and if you are interested in giving crappies a try visit Mike and Erin on their website at

They has also have a number of cabins open year round.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wow,some nice fish!

 The Magician is a happy camper!
It was still dark when we pulled out onto the frozen surface of Lake Winnipeg off the end of Warner Road off the west side. There were two vehicles in front of us lighting the way, the wet surface gleaming in the reflection of their headlights. I was out this day with The Fishin’ Magician as Brent Kruger likes to call himself. A long time guide out of Kenora, Ontario, Brent now resides in Winnipeg. Our plans were to head by snowmobile along the south shore of the big lake towards the mouth of the mighty Red River. There was one problem, and it was not a small one…massive pressure ridges that jutted out everywhere from the surface of this huge body of water. As we unloaded the machine onto the lake, we could see numerous vehicles heading east trying to find a way across these treacherous ridges. It didn’t help that extremely mild temperatures had widened the cracks with open water along these mounds of ice.
It was plus three Celsius as we wended our way along a ridge, trying to find some way across. Finally after about four kilometres of searching we found a ridge that was solid on both sides. Fifteen minutes later we were drilling holes, breathing a huge sigh of relief that we had made it unscathed. Well, we did tip the machine once, but who was counting! I drilled a number of holes over a decent area so we could cover a bit of ground, the auger still able to just make it through without an extension. Meantime behind us, out in deeper water a steady stream of vehicles and snow machines crawled out near our location. Still we pretty much had this location all to ourselves, a small ridge on a sandbar that varied in depth from 10 to 11 and half feet… a bit depth change in this lake that tends to be pretty flat.
Brent had the first two fish caught on a Rattlin Rapla, then five minutes later we had a double header. While Brent landed his fairly quickly, I knew I had on one of those sumos Lake Winnipeg is famous for. Head shaking and pounding down like only these massive fish can do, Brent scrambled to the side of my hole, ready to help. Finally the head of this beautiful fish poked up the hole. Out she came, dropping eggs as I held her up for some quick pictures. While we were fishing outside this day, we didn’t have to worry about freezing any eyes on these fish with a temperature of plus five Celsius.  That beauty was quickly put back down the hole, ready to lay a couple hundred thousand more eggs come spring.
 First fish of the day!
Now The Magician is a pretty competitive guy, and he didn’t like the fact that I had him beat on the size end of things. He worked hard all morning hoping to get a trophy of his own. After the bite ended at nine a.m., we got on the snow machine and started moving around, trying to re contact the school of fish we had been on early.  We would hop about 400 metres at a time, drilling four holes and watching our electronics for activity. If nothing showed up in fifteen minutes it was time to move on. This went on until about noon without one fish landed. We then decided to head back to our first locale to see if there was still some fish around. Sure enough, not ten minutes later while watching my Humminbird Ice 55 I saw a huge red mark below my lure. Now, I was using a perch coloured Lindy Darter fished about three feet off the bottom. This red mark on my flasher was so big, there was no gap now between the bottom and my bait…..truthfully one of the biggest marks I have ever seen on my flasher. Wham!!! This fish just slammed my bait, with line heading out in a steady pull. Man did this fish feel big, but unfortunately a short time later, she was gone. Man, talk about deflated!  Then fifteen minutes later Brent sees a small twitch on his jigging rod. Picking it up off the ice, the rod bends slightly. Seeing the weight on his jig, Brent slams the hook home. Now, we both knew this was a big fish, so he asked me to go find his Go Pro so he could record the moment. While I went to get it, he started to hyperventilate as the fish started up the hole, with me not back there yet. I started to laugh at him when I arrived back. You see, these were eight inch holes, and this walleye was so huge, it was stuck in the top of the hole with no room for movement. I have never seen a walleye fill a hole like that, so there was certainly no danger of losing this fish!

What a way to end the day…and the Magician was happy since his fish was bigger than mine, and the biggest walleye he has ever caught ice fishing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Dealing with the Deep freeze!

A nice eater (Gene Collins photo)

Dealing with the Deep freeze!

Conditions at this time of year can be extremely tough to deal with when temperatures plummet to the -30 Celsius and below range. This year so far, anglers have been able to drive out on Lake Winnipeg with their vehicles. A lack of snow has allowed a pretty free range of access up until one hits an ice ridge. This is where it gets tricky. One angler on Saturday decided to test a soft spot with his foot. When it gave way he lost his balance and plunged into open water up to his armpits. He was able to quickly get out but if he was on his own on a snow machine, there could have been all kinds of complications. That is why you always carry ice picks around your neck, even in mid-winter. And don’t poke at soft ice with your feet!
For those wanting to travel a little farther afield, snowmobile becomes your best option. With a sleigh behind you can cover a lot of ice. Jason Hamilton, who guides on the lake, has a snowmobile plus a Ranger ATV with tracks that is enclosed. When looking after clients this allows mobility within a heated space.
Not a SnoBear but a pretty good option.
Hamilton wrote about how he attacks Lake Winnipeg in the latest edition of Hooked Magazine. Here is an excerpt on how to protect your equipment from the hard knocks that this kind of travel produces:

If it’s inconvenient to move frequently, you created an anchor. The best fishing is usually the last hole you drilled in a given day, since you put the puzzle together.

The auger, especially with an extension is the toughest item to find a home for, but try to keep it all in one piece and in the open. Mounts by Digger, Clam and Koplin offer options for ATV/UTVs and snowmobiles, as do custom fabricated wood and metal units. Ensure the power head is supported to prevent bending the bit.

As I see it the goal is to keep as much of your gear on the vehicle and protected by its suspension. Most icefishing electronics are designed to fit in 2.5 and 5 gallon buckets, which with some padding, make a great way to keep them from rolling around. Action Packers and ATV cargo boxes similarly lined are great options too.

Pulling sleighs and flip over shacks on Lake Winnipeg is a true test of their durability. They bounce, careen and occasionally catch some air on the drifts and ridges. Cheap blue sleeping pads can cushion gear and make a nice mat to keep your feet off the ice. I’ve found that a Big Buddy Heater (with bag) and 20 pound propane tank in a milk crate will wedge between the seats of most two man shacks.”
Check out Jasons blog at

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Recent success on the big lake has been a bit hit or miss. 
 Moving pays off big time with this Lake Winnipeg giant (Gene Collins Photo)
I had two sets of friends out this past Saturday. One group managed to get on a roving school of walleye while the other group never found any large numbers schooled together. That’s why Hamilton and others like him like to drill a bunch of holes until they start marking a lot of baitfish and those big walleye that follow them around!
 Jason and guests in the Ranger!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Great action on the big lake!

It has been a busy week on Lake Winnipeg as anglers take advantage of the warm weather. A couple different groups of friends were out this week, with both reporting excellent action for walleye. Jim Price found a way to get around the pressure ride on the west side near Warner Road to get out to deeper water and away from all the angling pressure. It paid off in spades with a number of nice walleye caught in 13 feet of water. This pattern was repeated yesterday with Gene Collins and friends headed out on snow machine. They landed 30 walleye, the largest 26 inches. Collins says the walleye were jammed full of one inch emerald shiners. Blade baits caught all the bigger fish.


Christmas came a bit early for me last week when I visited with Walter Saganski from Klass Tackle. Walter supplied me with his latest blade baits and given the success Gene Collins had with his….I can hardly wait to start getting into some big fish!
Check out his wild line of blade baits at