When things look bad: They'll usually get better! (aka. there's a Walleye gold lining to every dark cloud)
By: Daniel Kiazyk
Well the plan was to be out on the water at sunrise. We were up early that morning and had everything packed, ready to go – the only problem was that it didn't look like the day was going to be a nice one. What else is new eh? I guess the question you have to ask yourself at the end of October in Manitoba is, "Why are you fishing anyways?" Just remember we're talking about fishing on the southeast corner of Lake Winnipeg with winds barreling down from the Northwest often times raising the river a foot or two (BTW this is called a seiche effect just in case you read it elsewhere and wonder what it means). Not only does the water rise in general but one thing that accompanies the "seiche" effect are lots of big, ugly waves. Well I guess the reason we wanted to be out there was to make one final greenback hunt… maybe even a good one eh?
Packing our supplies in the ol' truck, it seemed we had enough supplies to meet most any of the eventualities that we'd run into over the years fishing for greenbacks. The difference that experience makes is at times crucial and in this instance having all your ducks in a row would make for a better if not at least a safer trip. My fishing bud this day was a long time intrepid fishing pal of many years, Ferd. Ferd's fishing resume looks something like that you'd expect from a fishing pro, seasoned outdoor sports writer, but unlike those others he's the kind of guy whose actions speak way louder than words. I would go so far as to say he could probably tell tales that as Robert Service would say "would make your blood run cold", but I digress.
Making our way north from Winnipeg on Hwy 59 we were starting to encounter successively thicker snow squalls. These squalls, I'd imagine, were lake effect snow events caused by the difference in temperatures at that time of year between the lake and land mass around it. Remember that lake Winnipeg is the 13th (that's a scary number anyway) biggest freshwater lake in the world and that it takes a bit of time to heat up in the spring and cool down (as was the case this day) in the fall. For the latter reason I hate the drive up on Hwy 59 this time of year, especially where the road goes to two lanes. This road is scary at the best of times with beach/cottage traffic, but now with snows, sleet, fog it becomes a down right hazard. Strangely enough that particular day we made good time despite the snow, sleet, fog. The storming, however, that morning was not going to let up. As we approached our final destination, Pine Falls, we encountered a full blown snow storm – so thick we couldn't see further than the front of the truck. Things didn't look good.
Well breakfast was immediately put on the agenda with the hope that the snow would break in short time. In the restaurant we heard stories of the previous day's adventures: Waves breaking over the bow of boats nearly filling them in one foul swoop. Ugh, the thought of such a wave brought a level of unease to our adventure that really didn't need to be there…..but remember we've done this before so it wasn't as if we hadn't heard or seen stuff like this before. We had been out in the sleet, snow, wind and rain and had survived… Gulp (and I don't mean Berkley's new baits either). On the other hand you've got to wonder if this isn't just ‘talk' yeah you know the stuff where you're either being psyched or led along the garden path! Not as serious a problem this time just a little bit of mental anguish….. Well it didn't matter we were out there with a purpose: Greenbacks.
The snow having finished and fortified with a good meal it was time to get out there on the water. Our quarry as I mentioned earlier was the "greenback" walleye of Lake Winnipeg . As we approached the launch and we started to go over our inventory for the last time before setting out one little glitch presented itself.….we had forgotten our depth finder. Just another little bump in a day that wasn't turning out to be stellar by any stretch of the imagination. but I guess the only problem with this was that in the back of my mind I kept remembering stories of locals hitting rocks where there had never been rocks for the last thirty years. Hey I'd say to myself as I was backing down the ramp, "No guts no glory….". But there was a bright side to the day as we were the first boat in the water that morning and didn't have the normal headaches getting the boat in the water – I just hate it when you get people holding up the launch process doing stuff they should be doing BEFORE the launch. The only really difficulty we had at the launch and until we were out on the bay was that the boat was still full of snow, making it quite slippery. Ferd too for some reason didn't have quite the right clothing- and would get cold on the way out. But the latter weren't all that bad as we had extra clothing and could move the wet snow easily enough. Ok, just a few glitches nothing too bad.
Our strategy that day was nothing different than what we had employed on any other outing n this area. Firstly getting out early is a key in my opinion on this fishery. As I've already mentioned I've seen an early departure as the difference between my boat having a few fish vs. no fish. This was to be different day in so far as fish were not really a problem to hook up with. Secondly location this day was to be a significant factor. I‘ve written about this elsewhere and won't go into the details (see article). But….getting out to the spot on Traverse Bay was a bit tougher than was usually the case. A large amount of heat was being given up by the lake that morning and as a result the fog was thick. I guess the snow storm that had went through earlier was the precursor to a cold front that was going to be coming out of the northwest. Well to make a long story short the really cool northern air mixing/meeting the warm waters of Traverse bay that morning meant there was going to be a lot of fog. Argh!! I knew something else was going to make this day a bit tougher. The resultant fog meant we had to move a little more slowly out into the bay (so not to crash into any number of obstructions – including boats that are normally out in the bay). Given the experience that we had had already that day we took this new situation with unusually cool heads. Hey we were out there and taking a few more minutes really didn't matter did it?
So once we got out there we would go through our normal search pattern. This pattern is not all that complicated for the Winnipeg River at this time of year… jig or troll. It was at this point that the day started to look quite a bit different from what we had experienced already.
This particular morning we decided to start by putting down the jig. To be honest this hour and a half long decision was more or less fruitless. We hit one so-so average walleye but that was it. As a whole we could have arrived at the conclusion that it was going to be an "off" day as everything else had been up to that point. The fishery, too, this particular year was not particularly hot nor had it been hot the year before but we still weren't convinced that it wasn't going to give up any fish. As with the year prior we had always found fish – may be not a lot but always some. Bad? Not really. As the saying goes that's why they call it fishing and not catching. This kind of difficulty was not really one at all.
What did we need to do? Well the solution was simple enough: Go looking for ‘em. With a change in rods and the employment of a variety of cranks we would go out and look for them. Well as a small tweak to this strategy I'll often size up or size down the offering during this trolling/search pattern. On this particular day if we had gone with the standard 3.5" cranks we'd have caught fewer fish.. Having a crank at 2 7/8' or 2 1/2' we soon found out what the walleye wanted. Color didn't seem to matter all that much as long as we stayed with the normal walleye color range. Just as a proff that colour really wasn't an issue we would change colors every half an hour and would still catch fish with a frequency that didn't suggest anything otherwise.
It didn't take a long time to figure out that the fish were other than where we had been jigging. As we trolled throughout the bay we started to catch fish in one particular area – not only were we encountering fish in one area but we saw a number of people in contact with fish in that same area. So what did these other people do?… Surprisingly they moved out of the area! Well as simple as this might sound we decided to continue to work the area. Guess what? We continued to encounter fish. It was almost as though a school of walleye had moved into the area and were staying there because something had brought them in…... What reason?…obviously they were in there to eat something that resembled our cranks… and we were there to accommodate.
The end result of the day wasn't a big fish but rather a good number of fish. Disappointing? No, not really. It would have been nice to have hoisted up one of those monster eyes but numbers can be just as much fun. We caught enough that day to be able to upgrade our limit with nearly the best possible fish. At the same time we noticed only one other boat had caught on to the pattern already mentioned. They had patterned the fish a bit differently using an electric motor and moved slowly pulling jigs throughout the area. I'll be the first one to admit that there are many ways to skin a cat or I mean a walleye. Guess it's all in how you look at it – or anything else for that matter. There's a silver lining (or gold – walleye that is) in every snowy-gray cloud.