Frigid Start on Lake Athapapuskow

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Our trips do not always go according to our plans or expectations, and life is full of uncontrolled variables. Take weather for example. We had been looking forward to our New Year’s ice fishing extravaganza on Lake Athapapuskow for months and could not wait to be set up on the big lake for big lake trout! The forecast for the weekend did not look promising as Mother Nature was predicted to cast an extreme cold spell across the country. We are accustomed to being out in the cold and have experienced frigid temperatures on this lake before so we kept ourselves in a positive frame of mind and decided the fish would cooperate. In our experience, whenever there are drastic fluctuations in weather, fishing tends to be impacted one way or another.

 

LAKE ATHAPAPUSKOW

We fell in love with this lake during a winter trip with one of our friends about a year ago. So much so, we decided to celebrate Canada’s 150th up at this lake and made a return trip in August for our summer vacation. It was during one of these trips Robyn caught a healthy master angler lake trout measuring in at 36″. In addition to catching big fish, every time we are up here we experience amazing acts of nature. I will never forget the day we took cover from “the big lake” sheltering ourselves from the wind in a little channel.

We stumbled upon a loon family swimming through the bay and they serenaded us for about an hour that afternoon. We can’t even describe how special this was as we just sat back, watched and listened in awe. To quote Donnie Vincent; “To experience fantastic things, we have to put ourselves in fantastic places.”

To experience fantastic things, we have to put ourselves in fantastic places.”

Robyn with her first master lake trout measuring 36". What a beauty!

Robyn with her first master lake trout measuring 36″. What a beauty!

We arrived early Saturday morning, the day before New Year’s Eve, and had a quick snooze in the truck before heading out on the ice to our predetermined location approximately 12 miles from the launch at Cranberry Portage, Manitoba. You are never sure what the drive on conditions will be like but we were fortunate enough to make it out to our spot without having to cross any major ice ridges or have to navigate through any deep snow drifts. We picked up our morning coffee the night before, so we were perked up and excited to set up and start searching for big lakers.

Had the weather been a little more agreeable, our strategy would have been to start drilling holes, check depths, watch for marks, and “grid” the lake to find where the fish were hanging out. However, as it was -40 degrees without the wind, fingers, cheeks, noses, and eyes were freezing almost instantly. It was also one of those mornings when everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The heater did not want to start, the auger wouldn’t idle, and high winds were blowing the shack away before it was even set up. Everything was a struggle! We persevered and decided the smartest thing to do was to protect ourselves from the elements, and “chum” the waters around the shack, hoping to bring the fish to us.

A ROCKY START

Purposely positioning ourselves on a rock ledge with a 30 foot drop off that we located during our last ice fishing trip, we were anticipating the fish would be congregating here again this season. The rock ledge creates the perfect ambush for aggressive feeding lake trout.  We each drop a line down from our dead sticks with a hook camouflaged by a piece of chum. On our jigging rods, Robyn opted for a medium blue and silver spoon with a 3 foot fluorocarbon leader tied on to a swivel and I had a dead bait fastened to a quick-strike set up.

With our holes about 8 feet apart in a double ice shack, we were able to fish depths ranging from 35 to 65 feet, essentially down the side of the entire rock structure. Robyn would let her jigging line drop all the way to the bottom, jig a few times, and then reel up at quick pace wanting fish to chase after her lure. I simply suspended my bait in 65 feet of water, three to four feet off bottom.  We marked a few fish on the flashers, had a couple of lookers, and saw a few swim by on the Aqua-Vu camera, but the trout were not interested in feeding on our offerings.

As the first line was dropped down, we had an instant hit and hooked onto a decent sized, healthy burbot.”

Being at higher latitude, days are shorter and we knew we would lose the light soon so we started to gather our gear for the burbot night bite. We headed for deeper water about a mile from our trout shack, wanting to drop our lines in at least 120 feet of water. In line with our luck on the trip thus far, we drilled holes, and set up our bed only to find we managed to park directly over top of the only rock structure in the middle of the lake. We were only in 20 feet of water! Note to self; always check the water depth BEFORE spending an hour setting up.

Another hour later, we were finally relocated only 100 feet away and found our ideal 120 feet of water. We each dropped a line in with a Kamooki Glow Tiger, loaded the hook up with minnows, and clipped bells to the ends of the rods. As the first line was dropped down, we had an instant hit and hooked onto a decent sized, healthy burbot. Suddenly the bad luck of the day was becoming less of a thorn and we settled in for what we hoped would be a warm night of successful fishing. We hooked on to one other burbot before falling asleep. When we woke up in the morning, we figured we had missed a few bells as the hooks were completely empty.

A COLD AND BITTER NEW YEARS EVE!

Hoping for better luck on New Year’s Eve, we headed back to our lake trout shack and dropped our lines down just as we had done the day before. It was about 15 degrees warmer today and the wind was fierce. The warmer temperatures combined with the high winds caused the lake to expand and BOOM. It was almost like there was a lighting storm beneath our feet. We were not sure if it was the loud cracking, change in temperature and pressure, or a combination of everything but we could not find the fish and only marked 3 fish on the MarCums. Tired, cold, and a little defeated, we decided it was in our best “fishing” interest to pack up early and head to another lake where we might have more luck. The idea of being half way home and not having to trek the eight hours in one straight shot back to Winnipeg was also appealing to us.

Cold sunset New Year's Eve on Lake Athapapuskow, Manitoba.

Cold sunset New Year’s Eve on Lake Athapapuskow, Manitoba.

Over the Christmas break I had stopped at Foot Print Lake near Grand Rapids on the way home from a hunting trip. Robyn had never fished the lake before and we were both excited about the multiple species of trout stocked in this lake.  Arriving at approximately 10:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, we managed to stay awake until midnight to wish each other a Happy New Year and prayed for good fishing in the morning.

FOOTPRINT LAKE TIGER TROUT

Another challenging cold and windy morning awaited us but we pushed on and got ourselves comfortably settled on a west point of the lake just at the edge of a rocky weed bed. We each fished our own sight hole with Robyn fishing in about 6 feet of water and myself in 8. Having only fished this lake once before, we thought we would try a few different approaches. Robyn tied on a flasher jig with what seems to be her signature trout dough tail, and I had a pink marabou jig with a white feather tail. Both of us started to see fish as soon as we dropped our lines down and started jigging. Immediately, a pair of large tiger trout swam through followed by and a few small brook trout.

The catch was a beauty tiger trout measuring 22” and qualifying for a master!”

It was Robyn that hooked onto the first fish of the day and brought life back to the party! The catch was a beauty tiger trout measuring 22” and qualifying for a master! It proved to be a worthwhile fishing day on Footprint Lake as we continued to see a lot of fish throughout the day. We caught a fleet of small brook trout being absolutely mesmerized by their unique body patterns and colours, an 18 ”rainbow, and a few more decent sized tiger trout to close out the day. As with all  our trips, even though this one in particular was challenging in so many ways, we sure wished we had another day or two to stay and fish this lake.

Robyn cracks the Master Angler barrier once more!

On the drive home, we reflected on our experience and we were happy that we had the chance to fish Footprint. We are constantly learning from every trip we take, recognizing opportunities and better ways to approach challenges. We try to stay present and positive, even when things don’t go the way we want them to. Sometimes it’s just beyond our control.

On behalf of this fishing pair, we wish everyone a safe and happy 2018! Now go play outside!

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About Author

—Robert Karpiak spent his childhood hunting and fishing under the influence of his parents, grandparents and extended family, and became a professional outfitter and hunting guide at the age of 19. —Robyn Grant  threw her first cast three years ago in 2014, and once that lure hit the water she was hooked. Spending her summers in the Manitoba Whiteshell Provincial Park and Western Ontario, it didn’t take long for this casual weekend activity to morph into a full time passion.

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