Every Sunday, typically while driving home from a weekend of fishing, Robert and I start talking about where we would like to fish next. We have spent a fair amount of the ice fishing season chasing various species of trout, took a few days trips for crappie and walleye, and were not entirely sure what we wanted to target next.
With my birthday coming up, Robert surprised me by booking a room at the Elkhorn Resort located in the Municipality of Onanole, Manitoba and bordering the Riding Mountain National Park. Our weekend adventures typically lack modern day conveniences such as running water, and certainly do not involve queen size beds and in-room fireplaces! I honestly enjoy living with less and living simply but occasionally, it sure is nice to be taken care of.
Of course it wouldn’t be a birthday weekend without fishing! We looked at the lakes in the area and settled on Whitefish, a fish that has been on our Master Angler chase list for quite some time and can be found in Clear Lake located a few minutes from the resort. We figured this would be a win-win for us and couldn’t wait to get on the road. Arriving around 9:00 p.m. on Friday evening, we were greeted by two friendly front desk staff who let us know we could purchase our park pass and our Riding Mountain National Park Fishing Permits from at the front desk as well. Robert and I purchased two daily passes, one for each day of fishing, but realized afterwards the annual license was the smarter investment. We highly recommend reading the National Parks of Canada Fishing Regulations and the Riding Mountain National Park Fishing Regulations before heading into the park.
Day one was a learning curve for us as we were not familiar with the lake beyond what we knew from reading maps and a little advice. A friend of Roberts, Randy Bean, has a cabin near by and is a “whitefish master” on Clear Lake. He gave us direction on accessing the lake by snow machine as you are only permitted to access the lake from specific launches, as well as some hints about which baits the whitefish are biting on. Our tackle box for the weekend included small metallic spoons, small rattle baits, tungsten jigs, and some plastics.
We accessed the lake from the Frith Beach access on the south side of the lake and saw a handful of permanent shacks close to the shoreline extending out sporadically to about 50 meters. We looked at each other and said “well, there must be fish here”, and started to drill holes. Setting up in 9 ft of water, we marked a fish on the flasher almost right away. That would be the only mark we would see after about two hours of fishing. As we sat and jigged in the shack we could hear a snow machine off in the distance which seemed to be coming closer. We popped out to take a look and sure enough it was Randy and his wife who were heading out to find some walleye.
After a quick pep-talk from Randy, we decided to make a big move to the other side of the lake. With only a few hours of daylight left, we were not discouraged as we knew this would set us up for tomorrow if fish were found before sundown. We each dropped a line down and I decided to use a bit of a different tactic this time around. I would let my spoon down slowly so that it would stay within the angle of the flasher. Once it hit bottom, I would bounce the spoon a few times and then reel up to the top. I did this a number of times and we noticed this action would bring the fish in. We noticed on the underwater camera footage, the fish were timid and would get spooked even when it looked like they were going to commit to biting the lure. Rob managed to hook onto an 18 inch whitefish before we decided to call it a day.
The next morning moved along at the same relaxing pace as the morning before which had us back at the lake by about 10:30 a.m. This time, since we moved across to the north side of the lake, we used the Spruces access. Setting up very close to where we were the afternoon before, and jigging in 10 feet of water, we instantly marked fish and had a few chasers. The temperature had dropped significantly overnight and it was much windier out on the lake. The fish were moving noticeable slower today as we watched them on the underwater camera and around noon, we stopped seeing fish. Rob can get a little antsy when fishing is slow, so he went off to talk to a neighbouring fisherman as I huddle up in the shack trying to figure out what these fish wanted.
It was a tough two days out on the lake, especially having not seen very many fish. At about 5:00 p.m. on Sunday evening we looked at each and decided to give it 30 more minutes before packing up. Five minutes after we said this, our flasher screens lit up with marks and we could see three fish on the underwater camera screen. The twilight bite was on! The lake came alive and fish started chasing aggressively after our lures. We must have pulled in 7 fish in 20 minutes and Robert and I even managed to pull off a double header before we had to pack it in.
Little did we know (we totally knew) that we would head back to the Elkhorn Resort the following weekend. Robert called on Monday to let me know he had booked a room for us and come Friday afternoon, back we went. This time we felt better prepared and a little more “schooled” about catching whitefish.
I will say this! Whitefish are so much fun to catch! They are a thick fish and put up a good fight. Personally, we had the most success using metallic spoons jigging in 14 feet of water with noticeable weed beds in the area. Their behaviour was very interesting and seemed to differ from fish to fish. Sometimes a fish would meander into view and slowly bite the hook while jigging close to bottom yet other fish would aggressively bite while chasing the lure upwards towards the ice. We were far more successful during the second trip up to Clear Lake, catching 20 plus fish over the two “afternoons” of fishing.
Having nicer weather on the second weekend the fish were more consistent over the two days of fishing. There was definitely a prime time hour when the fish seemed to be feeding more aggressively, just as the sun started to go down and up until it was fully set. I would assume this would be the same for first light but Robert and I got a little too accustomed to sleeping in at the resort. All of the fish we caught were around the 19 to 20 inch mark and even though our target species was unlocked, we did not manage to pull a 22 inch (or bigger) whitefish out of the lake. This only means we will be going back to Clear Lake in the near future to try and try again!
This is the perfect destination for anyone looking to take a vacation close to home. I leave a little bit of my heart everywhere I travel to, and I can tell you that this lake will keep a part of my heart for a long time to come. Pack your bags, choose your adventure and don’t be afraid to go play outside!
Until next time, Robyn & Robert