Those of us that grew up on the water and started fishing at a very young age can usually attest to a vivid angling experience that has stayed with us throughout our progressive years. An experience that was likely responsible for shaping our enduring passion for the sport of fishing and one that introduced us to many of life’s little lessons.
I can remember like it was yesterday, spending the better part of two weeks during the month of August at my grandparents waterfront home on the Winnipeg River. I was only nine years old when I was first acquainted with the mighty Winnipeg and the diverse angling options that it so readily offered. Right off their 20 foot dock was a multi species smorgasbord that would frequently attract my unwavering attention from the early morning to late evening hours. There was Pike, Walleye, Sauger, Rock Bass, Smallmouth, Burbot, Sculpin, Shiners and even the odd Mudpuppy, all prized catches that bit my hook on more than one occasion.
But this was only the tip of the iceberg. Little did I know, the month of August would be a pinnacle time for immense schools of marauding mooneye’s that would consistently inhabit the current seams and mud bottom bays of this well-known river. Typically, my convenient spinning rod rigged with a bobber, hook and juicy night crawler was the all but guaranteed option, but on a sunny, still afternoon, my attention was pulled to a new opportunity. When hundreds of surfacing Mooneye’s began to target an emerging hatch of Caddis flies, not 20 feet from the end of the dock, I was propelled to try the unknown.
With an unrefined cast from my Silstar fly rod, a hastily tied Elk Hair Caddis found its mark amongst a large group of frenzied feeders. Almost instantly it was on! At nine years old I had fulfilled an unfamiliar curiosity and was immediately drawn to a new and exhilarating angling experience.
Rekindling the Tradition
My first mooneye on the long rod was a moment that I will never forget and one that has repeated itself a time or two throughout the past 25 years. A busy schedule and seasonal guiding career have caused me to miss all too many mooneye excursions, but this year offered a welcomed opportunity, to once again, chase the rewards of a long standing passion. With mid-August fast approaching, my good friend and fellow guiding colleague, Matt Cornell, was keeping me up to date on the anticipated mooneye bite. Matt owns Bruin Outfitting and Guide Service and specializes in the Winnipeg River’s multi species opportunities. The call soon came and we were off to fish the various segments of the Winnipeg River within the boundaries of the Whiteshell.
We visited numerous “text book” mooneye spots, commonly consisting of defined seam lines and back eddies, off heavy current and distinct mud bottom bays that are adjacent to deep water channels. Sporadic bites was the norm for the morning hours so I chose a floating line with a 12 foot 6 pound test fluorocarbon leader, tipped with a black micro leech and focused on a static presentation. But the mooneyes were hesitant to commit due to an unfavourable weather pattern of clouds and low temperatures. However, as the day progressed, a perfect combination of high sun, calm waters and rising temperatures entered into the equation and we were soon treated to a classic form of Mooneye mayhem.
Capitalizing on the Obvious
We drifted a standard mud bottom bay that was predominantly 10 feet in depth and quickly stumbled upon a giant school of aggressive Mooneye. Most of the fish we marked were suspended in the mid columns with notable numbers within 2 feet of the bottom. I switched gears and rigged a 14 foot, 6 pound test fluorocarbon leader to a 10 foot, sink tip line. My choice of flies were a black Micro Leech on the point and a Doc Spratley on a dropper, which was tied half way up the leader. Making long casts with a 10 foot, 5 weight rod, we stayed on the edge of the school and methodically covered various water columns to find the active bite.
And there it was, a 5 second soak with a long pull retrieve kept the flies within the targeted columns and each cast was consistently met with voracious bites. Fish, after fish, after fish, the so called “mayhem” lasted for three hours which produced a phenomenal tally of 50 fish with numerous examples exceeding the Master Angler minimum of 14 inches!
Mooneyes on the fly is a one of a kind experience that can offer hours of excitement, surprisingly heavy hits, plenty of high fives and the opportunity to sample one of the finest smoked delicacies in existence. These underrated little predators will attack a well-placed fly without hesitation and present a wide variety of fly fishing scenarios to peak your interests.
Prime times for mooneye’s are from mid-August through to mid-September with various sections of the Winnipeg River producing consistent chances at big fish and big numbers!