Winnipeg River a World Class Smallmouth Fishery


Working out of one’s home has certain advantages. Probably the one I like most is missing out on rush hour. Since I live close to downtown Winnipeg this is a huge deal. It also means I can turn on the Sportsman Channel when I want to check out some of my favourite shows.


Most involve bass fishing, which happens to be a passion of mine. While I still spend more time walleye fishing, my favourite fish to catch is a smallmouth. When I first broke into this business as a guide on the Winnipeg River, I was lucky enough to have bass in the system. It didn’t take long before I fell in love catching these scrappy gamefish.


Over the years since then I have spent many hours on the water pursuing them. I can remember fishing the first ever Kenora Bass International and making a complete mess of it. My partner and I were in first place after Day One, then made a couple of strategy errors that cost us the title. While I don’t fish tournaments anymore, I still love to get out whenever I can. I also love to learn anything I can about catching them and watching Major League Fishing is probably my favourite. I am always learning from some of the best pro’s in the world.

The last few years I have been lucky enough to fish with one of the best in North America. Jeff Gustafson has fine-tuned his approach to catching fish to an elite tournament level. His every action in the boat is precise, from his casts to his tying on lures. When he decides to move you better get your line in because the troll motor is up and big motor started in less than 10 seconds. All this is geared toward trying to compete on one of the largest bass circuits in the world.  He knows the value of every second, and if he needs to retie a lure, his hands are a blur.


One of my favourite adventures with Gussy just reinforced to me what a great smallmouth bass fishery the Winnipeg River is. This dynamic river starts in Kenora and wends its way some 235 kilometres through the Canadian Shield before it hits Lake Winnipeg and Traverse Bay. It’s dynamic and powerful for much of its length with many rapids that have been turned into dams for hydro-electric power.  I have been fortunate enough to fish almost every section of it. Many people don’t realize how rugged and beautiful many sections of this river are. I was lucky enough to spend three years guiding on the river out of Eagle Nest Lodge, which is near the Ontario/Manitoba border.


The smallmouth are found throughout the length of the river but one area that has become a hotspot lately is the section near Lac Du Bonnet. That doesn’t come as any surprise to me since the first bass I ever caught was off a friend’s dock on the Bird River as it enters the big river.

This was back in 1973 and since that time more and more anglers are discovering the great fishing available in this section as well as the impressive size of the fish.


It’s a fact that fish in rivers like to move around so there sometimes effort required to relocate them. Luckily smallmouth tend to prefer a home area and don’t stray too far from their spawning grounds.

They will move deeper though in the summer like many fish species. If there is current available, this can attract numbers of fish that really like this oxygenated water in the summer. Most smallmouths don’t prefer the heavier current but sit in back eddies, current seams just out of the stronger flow. They will use multiple areas, so points off bays can hold fish and shoreline that has relatively deep cover like boulders and deep cabbage or sandgrass.  All of this means, keep an open mind when looking. Wind also creates current in narrowed down sections. These are called flush areas and can be dynamite.

Learn to recognize these trends and you will be in smallmouth heaven.


Soft plastic lures have made a huge impact on the fishing industry over the last 35 years when I got my start in the fishing industry. One of the first pioneers in the industry was Berkley who hired a biologist from the Fresh Water Fish Institute here in Winnipeg to develop their line of soft plastics. Based on research being done on fear pheromones being released by baitfish when attacked, the industry was launched.  Berkley was my first sponsor in the fishing industry back in 1985. They had just started working hard on developing a comprehensive product line. To this day I still have boxes of Berkley Power Product and Gulp down my basement.


Does this stuff actually work?  It does, proven over and over again by the countless number of fish anglers all over the world have caught on it.

Over the years my use of live bait has diminished to almost zero. There are isolated situations when I will use a leech or nightcrawler, but those have become extremely rare.  In the last ten years, I have tied on a swimbait in many of my fishing situations for a multitude of species. Northland Tackle came out with a new one for 2017 that has me excited. Called the Core Swimbait, it is from the Impulse family of soft plastics. Friend and top tournament anglers Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson always has one tied on whether he is fishing a U.S Bass tournament or on his home water on Lake of the Woods.


Impulse swimbait by Northland

“This bait is a true utility player,” Gussy states.  “The extra-soft, ribbed body maximizes action and scent release, while the aqua-dynamic boot tail throbs, swims and vibrates at all retrieve speeds. Plus, the IMPULSE® Core Swimbait features Northland’s breakthrough Core-Shot technology,” he adds. “The proprietary process wraps the bait’s vibrantly colored midsection, or core, inside a clear outer shell to mimic a wide variety of live prey in all water conditions.”  Gussy also notes that the bait is super-charged with Northland’s patented IMPULSE® Instinctual Attractant, which features a baked-in MicroPlankton formula.


About Author


Don Lamont - The Complete Angler Don Lamont has been a full time professional angler for 34 years, hosting and producing the award winning “The Complete Angler” television series for fifteen of those. Don has received several awards for his commitment to public education and the future of recreational fishing in Canada. Those include a 2000 Canadian Recreational Fisheries Award for his work with Manitoba’s Urban Angling Partnership. In 2003 he received a Manitoba Tourism Award for his promotion of Manitoba and western Canada. In 2004 he was a finalist at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada National Award for Tourism Excellence, presented by The Globe and Mail. Don has been a regular fishing columnist in the Winnipeg Free Press since 1992 and is currently editor of Hooked Magazine.

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