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.
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
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.