Manitoba has an abundance of parks to explore, each with its own character and identity. As the birds begin to head south and leaves fall from the trees it can be one of the best times to get out and experience them. I am always keeping an eye on the weather all over the province and if there is an unseasonably warm day coming up for the Spruce Woods area, I don’t think twice and make plans for a hike and a fish. With countless kilometers of trails to cover and plenty of spots to fish, this area of the province provides a plethora of outdoor activities any time of the year and one of my favorites is hiking the Spirit Sands and fishing the mighty Assiniboine.
The Assiniboine River stretches for over a thousand kilometers through the prairies. Beginning in eastern Saskatchewan it meanders its way through glacial melt cut valleys and the flat floodplains of the Red River valley until it finally meets the Red River at The Forks in downtown Winnipeg. Countless rivers, creeks and drainage ditches feed into the river along its path as well a few dams and diversions built along the way for flood mitigation have altered the river over time, the Shellmouth Dam and the Portage Diversion being the biggest. The Assiniboine is prone to flooding on high water and heavy snow years and because of that the bottom composition is constantly changing. Holes erode in tight bends, sediment and sandbars reshape and fallen trees and debris accumulate in some sections just to wash away in the next flood. Countless sections of the river can and do hold fish and it has enough diversity to keep any angler interested. Channel catfish, lake sturgeon, walleye, pike, carp, mooneye, and a plethora of suckers all call spots on this river home along with many other species.
Shore access can be scarce in many stretches due to private property and minimal road access but looking over Google maps, many spots start to emerge. Good starting points are bridges and impoundment areas that don’t have entirely unmanageable current. Most fish are not going to hold in fast current areas for very long unless they have a good reason or no choice in the matter so current seams or slower mudflats are good options to try as well. Many times there can be fish closer to shore than most folks realize so make the first few casts closer in before trying deeper. Water clarity is fairly poor from Brandon to Winnipeg so bait fishing is usually the primary technique, but far from urban centres and closer to Lake of the Prairies the water clarity improves greatly and levels are usually considerably lower than other stretches of the river. Here any and all tactics can be used from spin fishing and bait fishing to fly fishing.
The current on the Assiniboine varies depending on the stretch of the river and section fished, lucky for us on a trip last fall the water levels were fairly normal for that time of year. It’s full of pretty much any and all structural scenarios a river could throw at you as well as a good number of different species. Soaking bait in the current edges and calmer waters we were able to land a number of fish from small channel catfish and mooneye to a few walleye and suckers. Sitting on the northern bank of the river with the sun on its way to the west our day had turned into a success. Our minds were cleared from our time in the dunes and tranquility on the banks, rarely would we speak even when a fish was caught. Flycatchers swooped above the water at whatever bugs they could find as we continued to fish on waiting for the next bite.
If you haven’t visited this part of Manitoba you truly are missing out, a day trip is worth the drive and a weekend even more so. With ample campsites and even a few backcountry camping options, Spruce Woods Provincial Park has a lot to offer anyone with the urge to get outdoors throughout the four seasons, as long as they are prepared for it.