WALLEYES UNLIMITED MANITOBA (aka. Crowduck Lake)
by Daniel Kiazyk
A fishing jewel exits in the northern range of Manitoba's Whiteshell Provincial Park: Crowduck Lake. Established as a catch and release walleye fishery some 12 years ago, the fishery has garnered near legendary status as a walleye fishery par excellence. The one lodge on the lake is perpetually booked and there are 40 or more boats on the other side of the portage from an adjacent lake. These prior numbers and the number of conversations I've heard at local tackle shops, bulletin board postings on "fishing Manitoba" all attest to a commonly held belief…. This is a significant walleye fishery (to say the least!)
The lake itself presents to the angler a wide array of angling opportunities. It was this element that drew me back to the lake recently. I had first fished the lake 25+ years ago and had caught numerous pike. I had also fished it once again 10 years ago in the lake's "bassin" hay day. But now due to a management decision, the lake is replete with walleye, walleye quite eager to bite. Conservation officials have stuck with this latter decision through thick and thin (mostly thick --- with walleye that is) and what a providential decision that has been.
Our trip (this particular occasion was not too long ago) to the lake started the day before with a 1hour and 45 minute drive up to big Whiteshell Lake from Winnipeg (the lake adjacent to Crowduck lake). Arriving later in the evening, we planned to be up early the next day to make our way over the portage into Crowduck . Camping facilities are excellent at Big Whiteshell lake (a lake known for its own angling opportunities) and we soon had our tent pitched and would settle in for the evening. We awoke earlier the next morning and prepared all our gear for the Day's fishing. On this trip we had our 17-foot freighter canoe and an economical four-horse motor. We tried to keep our gear simple (but as is usually the case I was a bit too enthusiastic in the tackle department!). The ride across Big Whiteshell Lake was uneventful until my fishing partner over-torqued the throttle and snapped off one part of the throttle linkage. The problem was quickly remedied by my friend's uncanny mechanical aptitude and ability to adapt. A few invisa – leaders and a couple of swivels and we were back on our way.
Arriving at the portage, I soon remembered the tough part of the trip into Crowduck – the portage. As it is marked, it is a little less than ½ a mile – ¼ mile up a hill and ¼ mile down hill. The path is wide enough but consists of rock, mud and swamp (with an elevated boardwalk through the swamp). Our 17-foot canoe and 4 hp motor transported quickly and efficiently. It was at this moment that I was convicted of bringing too much gear (necessitating another quick trip over the portage to bring over a few extras). I could definitely see a "dolly" as being effective device for this portage – something I've got in my plans in the near future.
Arriving at lakeside you'll began to appreciate this lakes innate beauty. The lake is separated from Big Whiteshell lake by a large heavily treed ridge. Along this dividing line between these two lakes is the Mantario trail a scenic hiking trail that starts in Nopiming park and goes into Ontario. The majority of trees in the surrounding area and around Crowduck lake are old growth pine with a sprinkling of popular and birch. Rock outcroppings present themselves with every glance towards any shore. The darker igneous rock seen is that which is common in shield country. Much wildlife can be seen from the water, especially if you're traveling in a smaller craft at a slower speed. Reefs are not uncommon throughout this lake and they do provide excellent angling opportunities should you have the time.
Our immediate destination was the popular springtime hot spot "dark water" bay. The bay can be found in the Northwest corner of the lake approximately three and a half miles from the portage. Making our way northwest it was evident to see that we would have to be cautious as this larger lake can "blow up" in a hurry. On the way up to dark water bay (and if the lake were to get too rough) you always have the option of stopping by to say hello to Bill Kalinsky at Crowduck lake's only lodge. Bill, unlike many lodge operators I've encountered doing adventure angling trips, is genuinely happy to see anyone stop by to talk and discuss fishing, water conditions etc. And should you have a craving for a snack you can always purchase them from Bill's little store. As I already mentioned you'll have trouble booking a cabin for an overnighter (unless you do so a year in advance) but day trips are available – either by advance booking or through cancellation. Dark water bay is only a short distance from the lodge and Bill has its entrance marked out so you'll be able to avoid some dangerous rocks present right at its entrance. Our voyage across the lake was a bit exciting as the early day's 1.5 foot waves required some skillful navigation. Moreover, a steady rain had started with no end in sight.
Navigation into the bay was not at all difficult. The Bay is a large almost fully enclosed unit with the extreme northwest part of it being shallow and weedy. A portage exists to the north where an angler can embark on an expedition into saddle Lake. The south/middle and eastern sectors of this bay are angled most often in the spring. Weed lines and structural components will hold numbers of fish. The main lake and its outlet are also quite productive with the main lake shining throughout the summer. Simply put finding the fish isn't really a task as most of the places where walleye should be at any given time of year in a lake WILL hold walleye.
Some of the tackle and approaches that have proved successful at Crowduck are basic to every walleye angler's repertoires. A white jig ¼- 3/8 oz. dressed with a white tail is an incredibly versatile tool. Tipped with a variety of baits this particular lure has many possible applications ---- Back trolled along breaks or near rock piles produces. The jig can also be casted along shorelines or worked over deep-water humps. Finally I'll often start my search pattern of a drift with the jig already mentioned through areas that look like they might produce fish. The other two favorite lures I have found effective here include the bottom bouncer/spinner combo and an array of cranks. Important to keep in mind when trying to pattern this lake is that there is a tulibee population as well as continuing strong smallmouth bass population and very few pike (at one time 25 year ago, this lake was a "pike" lake). As for bait worms and leeches , frozen minnows are effective and live minnows are not permitted.
My own preference for "when" I'll fish this lake corresponds with one of the most aggressive periods of walleye feeding – spring and early summer, although the lake does produce very well throughout the seasons. Spring early summer is my favorite season for this lake, as they tend to localize fish in particular areas. Dark Water bay, the east side of lake, a number of reefs and the river outlet all produce well at this time of year. The only problem for those who want to look at all these options is that it takes time: Hope for a cancellation at the lodge or bring in our own camping gear/boat. Camping spots are available on a few islands and chances are they won't be taken when you get there. To camp in the Whiteshell it is customary to inquire at a Natural Resources office and to leave your name with them and a description of where you plan to travel. In return you will receive information as to where you might find suitable camping spots for anywhere you might travel.
Our trip to Crowduck was unique as it was punctuated by a trip to the lodge. Having rained incessantly from the time we reached the lake, our spirits needed bolstering. My fishing partner that day knew the lodge owner and his father quite well and so it was not long before we were seated for some hot chocolate and interesting conversation. We ended up renting a boat for the afternoon and having Bill take our canoe out via land transport. Included in this change of plans was a boat ride to the main dock at Big Whiteshell (the usually means of access and egress for paying clients at Bill's lodge). I wasn't too sorry for not having to return via the portage as I had experienced another facet of fishing on this lake.
My own experience of this trip was that I fully enjoyed going to a lake that can offer so much for a walleye fanatic. I was also encouraged by the fact that given the management policy of this lake, fishing will be as good the next time I go for a visit. Walleyes unlimited? Well maybe…. But one thing is for sure… at the moment the walleye are still numerous. I don't think you'll find anything quite like it in southern Manitoba ---- That's for sure! As for the rumours that the population has reached critical numbers and is now in the process of over-foraging the lake…there's been a lot of debate on this one in the fishing fraternity and that's the stuff for another article.