On the Cisco Hunt
One of the impressive features of the Manitoba Master Angler program is the incentive it supplies for anglers to try for qualifying fish of different species. Anglers must work extremely hard to catch all 30 of the qualifying species listed in the program. Only four anglers have managed to register all 30 in the history of the program!
Over the last forty years I have caught my share of qualifying fish, but I stopped entering years ago. It just wasn’t something that really motivated me. I just love to get out on the water, whatever the species. I must admit though, when friend Ken Kansas asked me to come along on a one day trip to the Whiteshell recently for Cisco (Tullibee) he had my interest. I had never targeted this species before, which meant it would be whole new experience, something I always embrace.
I was to meet up with Ken, his friend Jeff Daher along with regional fisheries manager Derek Kroeker at Big Whiteshell Lake, a body of water noted for Master Angler Cisco. Derek has been fishing the lake for a few years now, at one time holding the lake record Cisco at 51.13 centimeters, caught in 2015.
Upon arrival, Jeff and Ken already had the ice fishing shack stove fired up with a nice wood fire burning. They also had a series of holes drilled on the tip of the point we were to be fishing. As we set up our electronics we found we would be fishing in 21 to 24 feet of water near the main lake basin. Derek and I soon started marking fish, with Derek landing a couple of Master Angler Cisco in the first half an hour.
Cisco are Pelagic feeders, they will usually cruise five to seven feet off the bottom. He says part of this is because of the makeup of the mouth. Their bottom and top jaw are even, so they feed on open water invertebrates.
After a bit of a break in the action Derek and I decided to venture across the lake a bit more to the east shore. Here we drilled a series of holes in water roughly in the same depth range. After a half hour with no fish marking on our electronics we headed back to were we had started. It was a good thing we did as the action stayed steady until I left later that afternoon. I was able to land two Ciscoes, one that qualified for a Master Angler (16 inches or 40.5 cm).
We landed six fish in the Master Angler length as a group, a good day in anyone’s book.
Derek and I had the best luck using very small jigs with one-inch brown or white power grubs. Kroeker explained that since Cisco are Pelagic feeders, they will usually cruise five to seven feet off the bottom. He says part of this is because of the makeup of the mouth. Their bottom and top jaw are even, so they feed on open water invertebrates. Kroeker told me that once they get big enough they might feed on small minnows but that is not their primary food source.
Ken & Jeff singing to bring the fish in!
Cisco actively feed throughout the winter and it’s at this time when most fish are caught. Because Cisco feed in the mid-water column in winter, knowing where your lure is in relation to the fish is the key to success.
These fish are a widely distributed species in Manitoba inhabiting almost all of the large lakes and rivers in the province except for the South-West border region. Cisco prefer cool deep lakes but can be found in shallow tannic stained lakes of Eastern Manitoba and the turbid waters of our large lakes and rivers.
In Manitoba, most Cisco are encountered in commercial nets or are occasionally seen in large schools as the spawn on shoals and river rapids in fall. There are a few lakes where Cisco grow to exceptional size (over 50 cm) and in theses lakes anglers have developed techniques to effectively catch them. Being a cool-water species, Cisco actively feed throughout the winter and it’s at this time when most fish are caught. Because Cisco feed in the mid-water column in winter, knowing where your lure is in relation to the fish is the key to success.
The increase use of personal sonar has dramatically increased the effectiveness of anglers to catch this species. In Big Whiteshell Lake, the rapid increase in the popularity of this fishery has prompted a proposed regulation change. The new regulation would see a six fish limit with only one may exceed 45cm. The provincial-wide regulation for Cisco has no limit on harvest. The proposed change is designed to protect the quality of the Cisco fishery while still allowing some harvest.
To find out more on Cisco or Tullibee visit the Travel Manitoba website at http://huntfishmanitoba.ca/go-fishing/what-youll-catch/cisco-tullibee