Lake Winnipeg in the winter can be just as nasty as Lake Winnipeg in the summer. Whiteouts, drifts, cold temperatures and pressure ridges make for some of the most difficult conditions for ice fishers on the planet. The only problem, is anglers want to get to possibly the best walleye ice fishing in the world and most will not take no for answer. That’s where the ultimate ice fishing machine comes in.
FLASHBACK: It was last March when Hooked Publisher Kevin Stobbe and I got our first taste of what these machines could do. We were standing on the frozen surface of Lake Winnipeg as hundreds of vehicles streamed out to chase trophy walleye. Watching all of this and standing beside me was Bob Izumi, Canada’s most famous angler. We were taking part in an event called the “SnoBear Migration”. Izumi was totally impressed by the angling effort that was taking place before his very eyes.
With easy access onto the lake via Warner Road on the southwest corner, many anglers were in four wheel drive vehicles, snowmobiles or All-Terrain Vehicles. Not Bob and I though, we were going to hop in one of the 35 SnoBears that had made the trip here from all over North America. While Izumi owns his own machine, Kevin and I were joining Mario Nozzarella, the head of distribution out of Fargo, North Dakota. We had first met Nozzarella at the St Paul Ice Fishing Show before Christmas. He was sitting in his Special Edition SnoBear, outlining the improvements his production team had made to these recreational vehicles over the last couple of years.
They were first introduced in 2006 and since that time, these machines have grown steadily in popularity, despite a fairly hefty price tag. Stobbe and I spent an hour talking to him at that show about these unique vehicles. Mario also invited us to the Migration, held out of the community of Gimli, the middle of March.
Now the day had come and we were looking forward to this adventure first hand. We got a bit of late start that morning as Nozzarella lined up a number of the SnoBears for a group photo, an impressive sight to say the least. Soon SnoBears were heading out to their fishing spots in all directions. In our group was SnoBear owner Ron Balzer in his custom 2016 model. Painted like a tiger in orange and white with a head on the front cover, this was easily the most distinguishable vehicle on the lake. Balzer, a long-time owner of a SnoBear had decided to buy the company in 2011 and move it the next level. Balzer is from Regina, Saskatchewan and he also looks after the Canadian distribution.
Heading north from Warner Road, we had to find a place to get across a huge pressure ridge that limited access for those anglers in traditional vehicles. Not so for a SnoBear. We just eased over the ice ridge on our way to the middle of the lake. Nozzarella had also put me in the driver’s seat of his $100,000 vehicle, a totally amazing experience. The day before I had been out on the lake with a couple of friends in a big four wheel drive truck. While we were able to get around somewhat, we got stuck once, and access to many areas was not guaranteed. Not so with SnoBear, which just glided over snow ridges and large areas of slush with ease. With a cruising speed of 33 kilometres an hour it didn’t take long to get to our fishing area, a distance of about 15 kilometres from the landing. We also didn’t have to worry about straying off course, even with me driving, because a huge GPS Map by Hummingbird was mounted on the dash. Nozzarella was relating to me how this unit had saved him more than once on the big lake when gale force winds had whipped up the snow to an almost complete whiteout. That’s why the SnoBear group loves coming to Lake Winnipeg. Its huge expanse allows the machines to shine. Really, this is the ultimate ice fishing machine, which allows you mobility and comfort in minus forty degree weather and whiteouts.
As we pulled up to our ice fishing destination Mario instructed me to put the nose of the machine into the sun. He says this allows the heat of the sun to penetrate the cab, adding a degree of radiant heat. All these units, though, have a forced air propane heater along with a thermostat to control interior temperature.
One question I always had with these machines is how to you drill the holes in the ice to line up with the four holes in the bottom of the floor of the machine. With Nozzarella now in the driver’s seat, he shifted the machine in low gear, lowered the hydraulic suspension and drove back and forth in a straight line to make marks with his tracks. Taking off the plastic hole covers, he then back the machine over the area he wanted to fish, marking the four holes with a bit of his soft drink. He then drove the machine forward and got out to drill the holes. Once completed, he then drove the machine back over the holes until they lined up. Finally, in order to keep the heat in, he inserted white plastic tubes down the holes of the machine to the augered ice holes. Talk about slick! In each corner of the vehicle he had mounted a flasher unit. Once set up he dropped down the transducers into two of the holes and he was ready to fish. And catch fish this man could. Not five minutes later he hooked into the first of many walleye caught that day.
Ice fishing on Lake Winnipeg has become a multi-million dollar industry and many locals have begun to offer guided services to the thousands of anglers who are making their way here to have the chance to catch a trophy walleye. Unless you have experienced it first hand, it’s tough to comprehend the interest there is in this trophy fishery. On the Friday we fished before the Migration, we talked to three guys who had come from Devil’s Lake North Dakota on their first trip here. They had already caught eight trophy walleye in one day of fishing. All mentioned that while their home lake is noted for its walleye fishing, they knew very few places in the world can offer what we have in our backyard. Let’s enjoy it while we have it and protect it the best we can.