The Red River section north of Lockport Dam to its delta is well known to anglers in Manitoba as a fall hotspot. The annual greenback walleye migration draws anglers from far and wide who ply the shorelines and community holes in the hopes of landing a world-class trophy fish. Hooking into a giant walleye surpassing the 28inch (71cm) Master Angler benchmark is actually more of an expectation than just plain angler optimism during the height of the run in October.
Once the days start to get shorter and the nights noticeably begin to cool off, both anglers and the fish alike begin to congregate at this major Lake Winnipeg tributary. We headed out on an exploratory trip recently to gauge the early status of the migration…
Mid-late September normally mark the first signs of fall in this province. A string of overnight cool temperatures this month has begun to change the colour of the leaves in a hurry. Seeing this, experienced greenback hunters have turned their sights squarely on ‘The Red’ anticipating an earlier than normal influx of walleye into the river. A handful of positive reports from anglers had us giddy with anticipation as Jeremy Santos and I left the Selkirk Park launch one recent morning.
We were armed with the standard jig and salted minnow combination that hooks thousands upon thousands of fish every fall. No other presentation outperforms this when vertical fishing from the boat. That being said, we always have a couple of rods featuring brightly coloured crankbaits for long-line trolling which can often trigger otherwise inactive fish. Dragging cranks anywhere from 1 to 2mph is also a great way to cover water searching for schools and discovering structure.
At the other end of the spectrum, a sit and wait approach is sometimes the difference maker in getting bit so we also have still fishing rigs ready to deploy. The ever popular ‘pickerel rig’ or ‘Manitoba drop shot’ flat out catches fish on the Red River oftentimes when no other method can provoke a strike. If you are fishing here from shore, this and similar variations of it are the only rigs you need to use.
We headed towards the southern stretch first, stopping at the iconic ‘steam plant’ area eventually making our way down to the famous ‘Miracle Mile’. Every stop resulted in a number of bites from the ever-present resident saugers. Small but feisty, these are fun fish to catch and at the very least keep you busy throughout the day while searching for the big one. We also trolled some promising looking shoreline flats without success. We watched in envy giving a thumbs up to a shore angler as he reeled in what looked to be a 20inch greenback. The majority of the annual fall run right into ice fishing season will be fished in this general area as the walleyes begin to stack up heavy here in the coming weeks. We also encountered several boats targeting channel catfish. These monsters feed heavy this time of year fattening up for a long winter.
On our way to check out the northern section next, we made a stop at Sugar Island. This part of the river within earshot of the main boat launch is one of the most popular community holes. Dropping our jigs in shallow water first, we made periodic stops at different depths keeping a careful eye on the sonars. A solid ‘thunk’ on my line had me yell out an enthusiastic “Fish on!” shortly after we drifted over 20 feet of water. We saw green end up in the net but it was the wrong kind as I had set the hook on a fat bullhead.
My disappointment was short-lived though as I recognized it immediately to be a Master Angler. At 14.5inches, it well surpassed the 12inch trophy benchmark for these chunky catfish. I ended up catching my Brown Bullhead Specialist Badge by the end of the day actually, successfully boating the required five. A quick measurement photo of each using the free Master Angler app on my phone and they were in the queue to be processed.
Jeremy hooked into the first walleye of the day not long after as he reeled up a beauty 18inch greenback. Hi-fives were in order to commemorate the first of hopefully many more to come this fall season. After a few more saugers we continued on our way to the northern stretch of the river at Breezy Point. There were a handful of other boats on the water in addition to anglers fishing pockets of shoreline. Another solid ‘thunk’ on my line at the first stop had me excited once again but the weight meant it was either the bullhead of a lifetime or an actual greenback. After dipping the net, we hi-fived once more, this time celebrating my first green of the season coming in at 21inches.
Employing the same strategy of methodically jigging at varying depths, we were honed in on a steady stream of saugers, bullheads, and the occasional walleye. ‘Spot-locking’ the boat on one particularly productive area resulted in an arm-jarring slam on my rod shortly after. The tell-tale dead weight after the instinctive hookset had my eyes wide as saucers as I adjusted my drag.
Once I saw the fluorocarbon leader come through the top of the water, the fish suddenly made a line-screaming run under the boat. Seeing this, we were not the least bit surprised when Jeremy scooped up a big pike making a commotion at the side of the boat. Northern pike, this one measuring at 35inches, are not uncommon on the river although to target them your best bet is to focus on creek mouths and smaller offshoots of the main channel.
It was a cold and windy day to endure on the water from the start. Once the rain began to fall in the afternoon we started to put away our gear satisfied in calling it a successful day. However, pulling our actual lines out of the water is always a long drawn out process in my boat at the best of times. This time the delay of several minutes hoping for one more bite paid off in a huge way; 27.5inches and 7.85lbs heavy to be exact. Just short of a Master Angler, this fish was an outstanding catch nonetheless and indicative of the ‘out of no where’ nature of fishing the Red River. The transition period during early fall on this body water can feature action-filled days and never really knowing what species of fish will take your bait. Make a trip to this easily accessible drive-to destination this fall to “get ‘em while they’re hot!”
For more information on fishing for all of these species visit Manitoba HuntFish What You’ll Catch page.
Originally posted on the HuntFish Manitoba page.