Taking the Whiteshell by Storm

It seems every time I head out ice fishing in the last month, the snow starts to come down. First it was a trip to Lake Winnipeg to fish with Dustin Byfuglien for a day, then it was last week on a trip out to the Winnipeg River. Friend Kevin Stobbe and I were to meet up with Matt Cornell, who grew up along the shores of Barrier Bay on the Winnipeg River. Cornell is well known in angling circles across North America as a man who knows how to catch fish. I have met Matt at a number of events in the last year and we talked about getting out for a day on the ice. As it turns out we were able to get our schedules together finally to make it happen.
After hooking up a trailer loaded with a couple of new Polaris snowmobiles from Rond’s Marine (thanks Tyler) we headed to Barrier Bay Resort, our first stop on this two day excursion. DJ and Erica Seales took over ownership of the resort four years ago and have made it into a couple’s destination. They also have one chalet that Matt Cornell likes to use to accommodate anglers that come up to fish with him. The cabins at this resort are spotless with hot tubs, decks and an incredible view of the Winnipeg River. Both DJ and Erica grew up playing competitive volleyball in Winnipeg but decided a life style change was needed to get away from the bustle of a big city. Erica says they are loving the change, especially with the people they get to meet in their new business.

After checking in, we drove up the back lane to Matt Cornell’s cottage just a short distance away. Matt grew up spending his summers in this cabin with his parents and his uncle, who always took him fishing and hunting. Cornell says he has always loved the lifestyle in the country, so to become a hunting and fishing guide, was natural for him. He has guided for the last 20 years but a couple of years ago he decided to come back home and work out of the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Previous to that he had been a guide at Scott Lake Lodge in northern Saskatchewan. While he guided there for a number of years, he also spent time in the spring guiding bear hunters, then waterfowl and big game in the fall. He says the total days a year guiding started to take its toll. That’s when he decided to take a year off and refocus his efforts closer to home. So for the last year he was been guiding anglers on the Winnipeg River and areas closer to the family cottage.

As we found out this evening around the kitchen table, Matt is a pretty good cook, who also knows a bit or two about wine and the finer things of life. In his years at Scott Lake he learned how to deal with his customers both on and off the water. Cornell has had many high end clients as well as those on the other end of the spectrum. He loves to educate, especially young people. 

On this trip Cornell was going to take us on a snowmobile tour of the backcountry to fish for one of the many species that are available in this beautiful Canadian Shield country. Off we went early the next morning and headed down a back trail in the middle part of the park.

The Whiteshell River starts out at Caddy Lake, and ends up in the Winnipeg River at Nutimik Lake. It has been a major canoe route for thousands of years, allowing people access from Lake Superior to Lake Winnipeg. In recent years it’s become a popular destination for anglers who want a back country experience. This is especially the case in the winter time, with snowmobile trails crisscrossing the park. It’s also increased angling pressure on black crappies, a species that established a presence in this water system for a few years back. Cornell, who loves to fish for this tasty panfish, is concerned that the increased angling pressure will cause a collapse in the population, especially in the trophy fish that swim in the many lakes in the system. He would like to see a reduced limit to four, with all fish over 11 inches or 28 centimetres released. To register a Master Angler fish with Travel Manitoba, it must be 30.5 centimetres or 12 inches.

GREAT DAY ON THE ICEOn this particular day, while we decided to fish for black crappies, we were also committed to one hundred per cent release of fish. It’s usually not a problem on this system because the depth we were fishing was relatively shallow, about 4.5 metres or 15 feet. We consistently caught fish during the day, though the fish were most active in the morning, with more of a finesse bite in the afternoon. I started off using a Mini Rippin Rap from Rapala.  Crappies tend to like pink as well as glow and this lure fit the bill perfectly, until I lost it, that is, to a big fish. Later in the day both Kevin Stobbe and Matt Cornell caught bigger fish on small jigs.  Matt was using a 1/32- 1/16oz Clam Drop Jig (tungsten) tipped with either a Clam Maki Plastic , Maki Worm or White Berkley Euro Larvae.  Rods were light action with two kilogram braid (five pound) to a 1.5 kilogram fluorocarbon tippet. 

All in all, it was a spectacular outing in a pristine setting. For more information on a day fishing with Matt Cornell check out his website at www.bruinoutfitting.com.
For more information on Barrier Bay Resort, visit them online at www.barrierbay.com