I couldn’t imagine a week that could be any better for a hardcore walleye angler. First on the fishing agenda was a three day trip to Budd’s Gunisao Lake Lodge. Budd’s registers about a thousand master angler walleye each year. That was to be followed by a one day adventure to Crowduck Lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Crowduck Lake has long been famous for its 100 to 200 walleye days per boat. Wow, are you ready to catch some fish!
I had been dreaming for years to return to Gunisao Lake in east central Manitoba, world renowned as the home of Manitoba Master Angler walleye. I had first visited Gunisao in 1992 when Dr. Jim Budd asked me to come up at film an episode of “The Complete Angler” television series there. Dr Jim had only had the lodge for five years and he felt it was time to let the rest of the world know just how good the walleye fishing was on this pristine, mesotrophic lake located 250 air miles north of Winnipeg. (www.buddsgunisaolakelodge.com)
It was Tuesday at five a.m. when I met up with John Toone , his son John Jr. and Vic Mann at the Esso Avitat hanger on the east side of the Winnipeg airport. We hauled in our luggage and shared stories of fishing trips gone past as we waited for the pilots and ground crew to load our gear on the three Keystone charter airplanes that would fly the eighteen guests up this particular morning. Gunisao has a 3600 foot all weather airstrip that is one of the finest all weather landing strips in Manitoba.
It took us less than an hour in the air and we were on the ground meeting up with friends Karen and Glen Smith in the lodge’s main dining room. Karen and Glen, who reside in Winnipeg, have been going to the lodge for the last four years. Owners of Priority Restoration, they are avid anglers, travelling across Manitoba to enjoy the great lodges and fishing this province has to offer. They had already been in camp four days and had three more to go. Checking out the Master Angler board in the main dining room, we saw that Karen and Glen had already landed six trophy fish during their stay, the biggest a 31 ½ inch fish. I should mention that in order to qualify for a Master Angler Award from Travel Manitoba, walleye have measure at least 28 inches. That is a pretty nice walleye in any ones book. Karen and Glen were to finish with 14 Master Angler Walleye before they were done!
What makes this lake produce so many big fish? Dusty Budd says the lake was commercially fished for lake trout for years until the trout fishery collapsed. After anglers discovered how great the walleye fishing was a lodge was established on the lake. Dusty’s dad, Dr Jim Budd purchased the lodge in 1987. Since that time the Budd’s concentrated their fishing efforts on the walleye that had filled the niche left by the lake trout. They soon discovered that the walleye grew to trophy sized by chasing down ciscoes that had once been the primary forage of the lake trout. Gunisao Lake itself is sixteen miles long by four miles wide and holds abundant spawning grounds. On our trip the big walleye were just staging outside the spawning areas and could be caught using a vertical jigging presentation. Karen and Glen fished one small area in “walleye hole” with orange ¼ ounce jigs tipped with a dead shiner minnows. Glen said the key to get the big post spawn females to bite was to the let the jig sit on the bottom for about five seconds, then slowly lift it six inches. Almost all the bites were extremely subtle in nature, requiring a slight lift on the rod tip to make the walleye commit to the bait.
While the Smiths stayed in a few areas, we travelled all over the lake in search of both walleye and pike. While our group caught three Master Angler fish we certainly enjoyed the outstanding fishing for both walleye and pike. In fact, despite only fishing for pike for three hours I managed to land a 40 inch fish, one short of Master Angler length.
Dusty Budd runs a first class operation with experienced guides, many of whom have been guiding for the Budd’s for years. We had Wally Bailey from Norway House for two of our days. He had learned the trade from his father before him and knew every inch of the lake. Just to give you an idea of how good the walleye fishing was, the average guest at the lodge while we were there caught at least one hundred fish a day.
TACKLE: While the Smiths had all their luck for post spawn walleye using jigs, we tried a variety of different presentations. We had great luck trolling crankbaits, in particular the shallow running Berkley Frenzy in a perch pattern. We used them on the Daniels River for about an hour and had numerous triple headers. Out in Daniels Bay switched over to Live Bait rigs with spin and glows hooked with a dead shiner minnow. This produced non-stop action on our last morning of the trip as the fish were actively feeding on mayfly larvae in this dark bottom bay. While we could not manage a master angler fish this morning our group did manage to land three as I mentioned earlier, the biggest a 30 inch walleye caught by John Jr.
Budd’s Gunisao Lake Lodge is one of the absolute finest walleye destinations in the world. The staff was friendly and courteous and the food was first class. Dusty made sure he was around in the main lodge in the evenings to serve up a cold Moosehead draft or find tackle you might need.
After arriving home to Winnipeg, I got a call from friend Jim Price. He had made arrangements for us to get into Crowduck Lake on Sunday. I am not sure that my walleye jigging arm could handle any more fish but I was sure prepared to try.