Spring is a pinnacle time for any angler looking for an epic bite. Within a common thirty day window, from mid-May to mid-June, there are various species throughout our province that consistently indulge in insistent feeding patterns. For the inquisitive fly fisher, this is an overwhelming occasion to pursue a variety of appealing angling opportunities that offer favourable numbers of quality fish and the alluring prospect to sight cast in shallow water.
With the end of May at my doorstep, I took a welcomed opportunity to head to the Eastern Region with the hopes of chasing the annual run of white bass on the Manigotagan River. Approximately 70 km north of Pine Falls, Manitoba, the Manigotagan spills out under the Highway 304 bridge as Wood Falls. A popular road side attraction, this impressive stretch of water presents a notable water fall with a moderate flow of tea stained water and an intermittent spread of shoreline boulders, points, pools, current breaks and foam lines. And let’s not forget a swarming, spring population of ravenous white bass!
Easily accessed from a highway parking lot, well used paths directed me down to productive shoreline fishing spots. With prime upstream locations currently occupied by conventional anglers, I spotted a downstream current break that had accumulated a substantial foam line on the edge of slack water. As I worked towards the downstream location I observed a tremendous number of “big whites” slashing schools of minnows under the foam canopy. It was a classic white bass feeding frenzy, frantic displays of scattering baitfish with sizeable bass viciously attacking their nervous outskirts.
With the sun high, light penetrated the top water column, making it easy to spot swarms of minnows and cruising bass. Without a second to lose, I rigged up a 10 foot, 6 weight rod, loaded with an intermediate sink line and a 10 foot, 8lb fluorocarbon leader. Armed with a blue and white deceiver minnow pattern, I made my first cast on the edge of the current break that naturally swung my fly under the sprawling foam.
Four strips into my retrieve I was instantly surprised by a heavy hit and a steady flurry of rapid line peels that immediately proceeded my hookset. It was a non-stop tug for the better part of a minute, which soon revealed a 16 inch white. The first of the day but certainly not the last. For the next two hours I hooked, landed and released over 20 bass, with many exceeding the 16 inch mark.
An exhilarating experience to say the least, but one that was about to be trumped. As the sun started to set, I began to notice active rises within 10 feet of shore. Big whites were selectively feeding on minnows and skimming caddis flies which visually exposed them in only 2 to 3 feet of water. So there I was, with a classic sight casting opportunity directly in front of me. My fly choice never changed and my casts were selective to only the fish that I could see. An easily spotted pod of whites steadily cruised the top water column, which made for an easy cast that placed the fly directly across their line of sight. Without hesitation, big whites hit my fly on almost every cast.
The visual anticipation of each hit was absolutely astounding. These mid-sized marauders moved considerable amounts of water and fashioned a substantial wake as they trailed each steady retrieve. Many of the hits were surpassed by a horizontal jump, created by accelerated speed and momentum. A real testament of their predatory abilities and aggressive traits. Without a doubt, the white bass is all business!
When’s, Where’s, and How’s of White Bass on the fly
Prime times for white bass will traditionally be from mid-May to the first week of June. Water temperatures will play a large roll in a favourable white bass bite, with 55 to 60 degree water being optimum.
The Manigotagan River is a great option for white bass on the fly, especially with its easy shoreline access. Many of Lake Winnipeg’s tributaries will also offer excellent fly fishing opportunities, including but not limited to, the Winnipeg River (Pine Falls Hydro Dam), Rice River, Icelandic River, Red River, Willow Creek, Wavey Creek, Netley Creek and Cooks Creek. Regardless of where you go, big whites love current seams and slack water adjacent to moderate/heavy current. Key in on these areas where large schools are predominant.
5 to 7 weight fly rods are perfect for any white bass scenario. Depending on water depths and currents, intermediate and sink tip lines are versatile options, with a 10 foot, 8 pound test fluorocarbon leaders. Fly choices will vary based on available forage. Traditional deceiver minnow patterns,(blue and white, green and white) on a size 8 or 10 hook are excellent choices. Leech patterns will also produce, with black and brown being favourable colors. White bass will also key in on common hatches, with caddis/damsel nymphs being good choices.