Nobody really knows what kind of impact the explosion of Zebra Mussels will have on the walleye population in Lake Winnipeg. People who use the beaches on the south end of this mighty lake have already felt their sharp bite. I am one of those, cutting my feet twice while swimming off the beach in Gimli last summer.
It has also changed the water visibility in the lake a lot, more as you head north from the mouth of the Red River. My wife and I were up at Hecla Island in late May to enjoy a mini holiday. While walking the shoreline I couldn’t help but be impressed by a water clarity that was close to two metres in depth. This has and will dramatically affect angling success in the lake. A reduced water clarity makes sport fishing extremely difficult. With improved clarity comes improved success, just as simple as that. Reports from all over the lake this June indicate great angling success from both a boat and from shore. On my way up to Hecla with my wife, I took the back roads in order to check out all the hot shore fishing spots. I talked to anglers fishing from the dock in three areas, Gimli, Hecla and Hnausa, and all reported good success. I could believe them because fish were being caught in the short time I was there. This actually motivated me to pull my boat up the family cottage at Gimli the next week to see what really was going on.
In past years friend Jim Price and I have been out on Lake Winnipeg to try our hand at some of these roaming walleyes. Our first trip out to Sandy Bar from Hnausa saw us skunked. It was late May but a brisk south wind for the previous three days had churned up the water to the colour of chocolate milk. Twice we have launched at Winnipeg Beach and tried our luck in the south end. The first time we caught a few eater sized walleye, some freshwater drum and a couple of white bass. That was in the middle of August. One year later we tried in July but only ended up catching some white bass.
Now, you have to remember this is Lake Winnipeg. It’s an extremely dangerous lake when the wind blows, so much care and thought is needed on when to venture out.
Luckily on this latest excursion a favourable west wind allowed us to venture out without too much consternation. Heading out along the shoreline, we immediately started marking fish. Of course on Lake Winnipeg there are a myriad of species that swim below so you never know what you might be fishing for. As it turns out in this case it was indeed walleye. Over two afternoons and one evening fish, we ended up fine tuning were the majority of the walleye were located. These were sand bottom areas in three to seven metres of water. Here, the walleye were chasing minnows that congregate in these areas in the spring and early summer of the year. We ended up catching a number of beautiful greenback walleye and it wasn’t complicated fishing, just find them on the depthfinder and drop a jig tipped with a swimbait or salted shiner and you were in business. We also trolled some crankbaits but it wasn’t as productive once the fish were located. Given the number of walleye found in certain spots, it was better to drift and jig using the troll motor to correct speed and angle. This is also a great way for inexperienced anglers to enjoy the day.
With the increased water clarity more success will be found by anglers, adding to the pressure already being felt on the walleye stock in Lake Winnipeg. The federal government has committed considerable funds to study walleye movement in the lake, and hopefully this increased research will help provide the data necessary to make informed decisions on future regulations to preserve the walleye population on this incredibly valuable fishery.