WILD HARVEST: Major Waterway Monsters

Aquarium rule

My fascination with fish, fishing and nature began early. During high school, I worked part-time at an exotic pet store showcasing extensive tropical and marine fish display tanks. As a general rule, one inch of fish per gallon is healthy and keeps larger species from becoming stunted. In captivity, the larger the aquarium, the larger fish growth potential can be. Imagine if this rule somewhat applied in nature? That would mean larger systems offer more habitats and can support lots of large fish!

 

An inland Delta

Applying this rule to a province like Manitoba could easily fire up an avid angler. Over a million waterways, central great lakes and an incredibly vast, interconnected river network is bound to offer some decent fishing. Struggling to stay above sea level, Manitoba drains a third of North America’s rain and melt water. Here, freshwater fishing opportunities for big fish are virtually limitless.

A good portion of northwestern Ontario is drained through Lake St. Joseph and Lac Seul via the English River, later joining the Winnipeg River in its lower reaches. The Winnipeg River is fed by Lake of the Woods, delivering the water across southeastern Manitoba and into Lake Winnipeg. The Red River drains much of the Midwest, meandering north, first joined by the Pembina and later the Assiniboine River in downtown Winnipeg. The Assiniboine carves its way through the prairies with headwaters in Saskatchewan, fed by the Souris and Qu’Appelle Rivers along the way. Further northwest, the Saskatchewan River spills into Lake Winnipegosis and Lake Manitoba, with a huge watershed and headwaters on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, delivering huge amounts of water into Manitoba. Every drop mentioned so far ends of up in Lake Winnipeg! The very north end of Lake Winnipeg is the inlet to the Nelson River, transporting all this water into Hudson’s Bay. The lower reaches of the Nelson River mirror those of the Churchill, whose headwater stretch as far back as Alberta, draining much of central Canada’s boreal forests. The Churchill River Diversion (CRD) into the Nelson River for hydroelectric generation completes this massive, interconnected waterway we call Manitoba.

Each river or region has its species-specific hotspot. And whether it’s smallmouth bass, channel catfish, northern pike or hoards of giant walleye, spring might offer some of the year’s finest fishing!

 

Lake Manitoba walleye

Fishing with two friends one spring day in a small tributary of Lake Manitoba’s eastern shore might still be my best walleye fishing experience to date. I can’t even remember how many we caught that evening between 25 to 30-plus inches. We also caught some giant drum! The setting was a small flooded river snaking through farm country. The most effective presentation was slowly trolling bottom bouncers and worm harnesses tipped with crawlers – absolutely crushing trophy walleye! I caught a few casting a jointed Rapala fire-tiger, including my personal best at 30.5 inches! These were schools of walleye only a giant waterway could produce…

 

 Churchill and Nelson River pike

Other adventures found me north, fortunate enough to fish both the mighty Churchill and Nelson Rivers. In their current states, one is a supercharged, hydroelectric generating monster; the other, a diverted river channel in drought condition. Creek or river mouths served as our fishing location. Other species were spawning here, attracting a staggering density of big, marauding, hungry pike. Any method of fishing produced, but best results came from throwing large spoon or minnow lures (colour and presentation depended on local forage or water color.) Dozens of 35 to 45-plus inch slough sharks can be expected. It’s ridiculous. My personal best is still a 48 incher from the Lower Nelson, caught near a small river mouth one beautiful evening in early May. The scary part was that I had just lost an even larger pike only moments earlier!

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