Spring Gold Rush
By Daniel Kiazyk
Just as the miners of the 19th century made their mad rush for Klondike gold, many Manitoban anglers head for smaller rivers, especially in the earliest part of the open water season, (especially where they feed into lake or they have obstructions e.g. falls, rapids) to strike out for a swimming kind of gold: walleye.
Two such popular rivers for the early spring bite in Manitoba are the Manigotogan and the Moose rivers. Both of these rivers cut through shield country in eastern Manitoba and both are relatively small. The Moose flows into the Manigotogan which ultimately flows into Lake Winnipeg. It follows because of their small size and their headwaters of dark tannin filled bog areas that they warm up a little ahead of most other waters in the province and hence provide for a walleye population that "wakes up" in the spring before many other popular fisheries in the province.
The rivers are well used by canoeists and other outdoor enthusiasts. Many people enjoy a beautiful week of canoeing down these smaller pristine shield rivers. Fishermen, too have fished these rivers for many years now. Their fertile waters support a wide array of species: suckers, fat head minnows, smallmouth bass, pike, whitefish, walleye. Fish aren't especially large, but they bite quite well at different times throughout the season, spring being the optimum season.
Not insignificant for the increased accessibility to the area's fisheries is the road PR 314 that rings it's way through the area and its Provincial Park: Nopiming Provincial Park. The park was established in conjunction with the road that now runs through the area. The road that runs through the area now has a twofold function. Firstly it services different mineralogical explorations and operations for which this area is important. Gold, tantalum and other minerals have and continue to be mined and discovered to this very day. Secondly the road offers visitors to the Provincial park access to the area's many attractions: Camping at many provincially operated campgrounds as well canoe routes and back country trails that wind through the area draw many into this wilderness playground.
As for fishing the rivers of the area I've done it for quite some time now. Since the 70's we would take canoes and move upstream from the point where the road intersects the Manigotagan and other rivers. This technique involved going upstream a couple of obstructions (water falls, rapids, etc.) until you come to an area where few anglers had the gumption to go. Some times of the year were better than others but we were never really disappointed with the action we would find there. The Moose river became more accessible with continuation of the road from the east to complete the ring now present. We've also accessed the Moose river from some of the larger lakes associated with the Manigotagan river and which have also been sport fished by others for a number of years (Caribou lake and Manigotagan lake). Both the prior were very popular during the 80's but because of heavy pressure these fisheries were pushed beyond sustainability.
The area in terms of its fishing has gone through a number of different phases. Initially the rivers were fished by few fishermen. The larger lakes along its way however have been very popular and have received a lot of attention over the years. So much attention that these fisheries have been depleted to the point where few or any anglers will even make their way into this country. All the while, however, regulations brought in about five years ago setting a slot limit for the fishery has resulted in an increase in numbers and size of fish. Moreover, once the walleye population had become reduced in numbers, another species, the smallmouth bass, filled in the void. The future for fishing now only looks good for the area. Smallmouth bass stocks are in excellent shape and walleye seem to be making a strong recovery. Only time will tell if recent regulations and management policies are enough to recover what once was a superb fishery.
Without a doubt the regions remoteness is at once an advantage and disadvantage to its fish stocks. I've witnessed on numerous occasions anglers taking fish out of the slot or just too many. The problem in these situations is that you can be in such a remote local that enforcement is nearly impossible.
In general over the years we came to realize that a couple of approaches were all that were needed while fishing for walleye in this area. We arrived at the prior due to the constraints that a canoe would put on us. Simply put you can put only a limited amount of equipment in a canoe. Saying the latter doesn't mean other patterns don't or won't exist but when your limited for time and space, you might as well go for the approach that works and doesn't take up much room. Four main tools come to mind: A collapsible fishing rod, jigs with plastic tails/bait and a couple of Rapalas (deeper and shallow running) and a couple of spinners.
In Spring, by time the season opens, many of the larger females have already moved out from spawning areas into some of the deeper stretches or larger holes in the river. Smaller males, however, will still be up at the constrictions and higher current (rapids) areas. The trick to fishing these current areas is nothing special. A jig, some form of bait is the start of what can be a great day. From that starting point, a couple of approaches to using the lure comes to mind. I personally like picking apart the riffles eddy's, edges, holes and obstruction that all exist in a rapids area. Eventually in any of those areas, you'll find an eye or two. As for the type of jig and colour and the necessity to dress it with plastic or bait, all this depended upon the mood of the fish. Being flexible in this regard means hooking up with a few more fish on any given outing.
As the fishing season progresses another idea to keep in mind is that walleye will spread out from the rapids. In many instances especially where rivers feed into a lake fish will remain in proximity to the rapids but will be a lot deeper and away from the rapids. In the late evening or early morning on an overcast day with a wind blowing into the rapids the walleye will move back into the rapids area. Of course at certain times of the day walleye do what they'll do almost everywhere else in the walleye world…. They'll move up or into any areas where there is a hump or to the edge of the hump area. Of course it never hurts to go back to the rapids to see if any fish have found their way into the oxygenated and bait filled water present there.
Another approach that is effective through the later summer season is to cast or pull deeper driving cranks and mid level running stick baits. In many instances I'll find a pattern that works. The trick is then is to repeat the pattern and to go back over the area until the bites start to thin. It is at this point that I'll pull out a jig and saturate the same are working the jig at different sppeds and depths. Now mr. walleye may not be the only habitant of such areas. On some occasions larger toothy critters will show their colours. Not a problem in my books if you know what I mean.
Of course the previous suggestions are just that, suggestions. All or none may work. The real advantage to a small river is that fish can't be all the far away – and yet another component is that when many anglers are in the spring thrashing bigger cooler waters, where walleye just havent' warmed up for the bite, walleye on these small rivers are chewing quite nicely, thank you very much. But shh….. eh! These rivers are only so big.