I always find it amazing how the love of the outdoors can bring people together. This story began back in late summer when Matt Hendricks of the Winnipeg Jets and I found ourselves swapping hunting and fishing stories in the parking lot of a Manitoba Natural Resources Office. As a former outfitter and guide, I enjoy helping put others on trophy animals so our conversations quickly lead towards the possibility of getting Matt onto big black bear this upcoming spring. Phone numbers were exchanged and we went our separate ways.
Matt and I kept in touch, and he expressed interest in teaming up to chase some of Manitoba’s many fish species through the ice. Working around a demanding team schedule, we were finally able to lock down a day for a trip to North Cross Lake, located in the Manitoba Whiteshell Provincial Park. Matt let us know he would be bringing along the Winnipeg Jets newest young gun, Jack Roslovic.
Wanting to showcase how unforgettable Manitoba’s backcountry lakes can be, and hoping to show Matt and Jack a great day of fishing (away from the crowds), heading to North Cross for crappie was an ideal choice. Crappie fishing is fantastic all year round but I’m partial to targeting them during the winter. There is something about the control you have over your bait presentation or maybe it’s that soft unmistakable thump not so subtly advising you to set the hook.
Off We Go!
With the help of my good friend Stephen Nixon and partner Robyn Grant, we met up with the guys at 5:30 a.m. on an exceptionally frigid February Morning. With everything loaded and snowmobiles hooked up, we made our way east from Winnipeg into the Whiteshell Provincial Park while temperatures kept creeping lower and lower. As we pulled up to the Caddy Lake access the temperature reading on the dash was sitting at a brisk -36c.
Everyone got as bundled as they could and we patiently fired up all four snowmobiles. After a quick “how to ride” instruction was delivered to our teammates, we cautiously made our way northward across Caddy and South Cross Lake. After a cold 30 minute ride, we reached our mark on North Cross Lake and quickly popped up the tents, got the rods together, and started pounding holes around the area. Extremely cold temperatures can make getting heaters fired up a struggle so the fishing was on pause for much needed heat.
First Master Angler of the Day
Just then “we guys” hear a high pitched voice shouting “master”! Stephen, Matt, Jack and I all poked our heads from the shacks to see Robyn grinning ear to ear holding the first fish, and the first master of the day measuring just shy of 14”. Recognizing this was a good sign, it was time to get everyone’s lines in the water. At first, I focused my teaching efforts towards Jack as he mentioned he had very little previous ice fishing experience. We stepped away from the group so I could go through the electronics and jigging techniques with him that should attract fish. The conversation went something like this; “Ok Jack, drop your line in. Do you see that (on the flasher)? That’s your jig. Do you see that (a giant mark was on the screen)? That’s a fish! Jig, jig, pull up, pull up, and set the hook!”
Jack hooked onto his first fish of the day and is now forever recorded as a Manitoba Master Angler. The morning was very productive with everyone putting a few fish on the ice despite the cold weather.
On the way out, Matt stopped at a gas station and tossed me a big bag of salt and vinegar chips explaining this was for shore lunch. I thought maybe “fish and chips” but Matt explained his idea of crushing the chips and using the crumbs for fish batter. By noon, we were all ready to eat. I filleted up our morning catch, breaded the fillets with flour and the salt and vinegar chips, and cooked them up in a pan of oil. It’s hard to believe I have never heard of this before because it was fantastic! The fish combined with the deer Kielbasa Matt brought made for a much needed and appreciated hot lunch.
Master for Matt
After everyone was fed, I spent some time with Matt passing along the techniques I use to catch crappie. Being a very quick study, Matt put five crappies on the ice in a matter of minutes including his very first master! After Matt caught his master, the two NHL players started chirping back and forth. Turns out, a friendly wager was placed on who would catch the largest fish. Unfortunately, at this time, no winner could be named as both of their masters were exactly the same size. The sun was now starting to tuck in behind the treetops and wanting to be at the trucks before dark, in good old hockey fashion I call out, “Next fish wins”! As luck would have it, Hendricks landed yet another master, crushing the tie and earning him the title of largest fish!
All and all it was a great day with lots of laughs shared and friendships formed. It’s not every day you get to listen to war stories from an NHL veteran like Matt Hendricks or hear about the amazing experience Jack Roslovic had when he won the World Junior Championship last year in Montreal as part of team USA. It was such a pleasure to show Matt and Jack just a little piece of how much Manitoba has to offer.
Let’s go play outside and P.S. Bring us the Cup!