"Takin' a Look" at Tokaruk
By Daniel Kiazyk
It wasn’t all that long ago when there was (and still is) this shining star of the trout fishing scene in the Parkland region of Manitoba. Tokaruk Lake as it is called and it was named after the families of the same name who lived around the lake (and one still does) is perhaps a crown jewel of what many have called the top seven trout lakes in Manitoba.
As it is, this 45 or so acres lake, continues to produced trout – brown and rainbows like no other lake in the province. There was a day when this little trout factory produced the provinces biggest and best brown and bows for a period of five years. Of course all good things come to an end and so it has been with Tokaruk.
Insistent catch and keep as well as over 100 ice huts on the lake over a period of five winters reduced the number of trophies this lake would or could kick out. In an effort to recreate the experience that many of us had on Tokaruk during the early days, FLIPPR and the local game and fish group and Conservation Manitoba have developed another lake close by with regulations that should ensure a viable trophy population. It is yet to be seen if Patterson lake will carry on the areas reputation for producing big trout over a period of time.
The province and the local game and fish group continue to re-stock this Tokaruk with regular frequency – Brown trout are not stocked to any great extent any more as there was some evidence browns were showing signs of disease. Rainbows however don’t have the same problems and they are a bit less expensive to stock.
Perhaps a bit of history is in order when talking about this particular lake. The lake traditionally had been a pike and perch lake and had even been stocked with walleye over the years. Locals like Mickey Hyrsak whose farm is about three miles south would recount seeing 6 kg pike attacking jigs in the lake’s crystal clear winter water state. Also quite common on this lake were limits of 8 walleye (the limit at that time). As Mickey would put it, this was one of the areas best lakes with perhaps Czerny or Imrey lakes having nearly the same productive ability.
The Tokaruk families (after whom the lake was named) that at one time surrounded the lake are almost all gone now. Only Alvin Tokaruk remains farming in the area. His mixed farm operation is like many of the farms in the area. If you were to go and talk to Alvin about the lake he will reminisce about past days and the fun his family has had on this unique little lake.
All the good times for this lake came to an abrupt end in the early 90's explained David Peach, another local resident who lives and farms only a couple of miles from the lake. David explained that winter kills on lakes south of Riding Mountain National Park are an expected part of lake life cycle in the area. So it was in the winter of 90-91 when the area received more snow than normal cutting off light to the lake’s plant life. The resultant lack of light cut off any more oxygen production by struggling aquatic life and moreover the dying plants put hydrogen sulphide into the water making the water even more toxic to any form of life. The winter of 90-91 was capped off by a large ice-snow storm, this last “spike” to Tokaruk’s coffin further sealed and entombed the lake – basically the lake was totally winter killed.
So what was once a prolific lake now was a “dead” lake. The local fish and game group out of Oakburn in consultation with the province decided to go a different route than the lake had gone for many years prior. The decision was made to put trout into the lake. The decision wasn’t all that momentous as the whole area has a history of trout stocking. The headquarters of the Manitoba Rainbow trout farmers is but 30 minutes east in Minnedosa. The Federal government had also pushed rainbow trout farming south of Riding Mountain National Park in the area’s potholes as an alternative use to the areas numerous sloughs / pot holes during the 80’s. Once again the amount of success of the whole enterprise had been limited by depth of sloughs and severity of winter kills and predatory bird presence.
So the lake was seeded with trout. I guess it should be said that the lake was bound to produce good trout but no one had an idea of the number of gigantic trout that this lake was going to produce. I myself have stocked six inch trout in a slough south of the Park and in a period of 5 months have pulled 12 and 13” trout.
My first experience fishing on the lake was in the spring of ’94. It was almost immediately that I was “”hooked” into this lake’s charms. It wouldn’t be a good thing if I would mention how many 4#+ fish I would catch on a regular basis. Let’s just leave the number as -- unbelievable –
Why has this particular lake been so productive. Firstly the lake is by its nature very fertile. Lakes south of Riding Mountain National Park support in general an enormous amount of aquatic life. Part of this food chain includes a form of fresh water shrimp which is partially responsible for fish growth and size that is not really paralleled elsewhere in Manitoba. The other part of the forage equation for these lakes is the presence of legions of stickleback minnows. Just to give an idea of how many of these minnows were present when I first arrived at Tokaruk, I would literally see the water boil as larger fish would predate on monstrous schools of sticklebacks. Interestingly enough you’d see the same activity below ice where sticklebacks would be attracted to your jig only to flee away by the approach of a larger predatory trout. I have no doubt that the areas trout become large by a combination of the prior two sources of food.
What about actually fishing the lake? The lake produces trout for all kinds of anglers. I am by no means an exclusivist when it comes down to trout angling. I started out on this lake with my spinning reel flat fish and Rapala, even a few flies. Long line trolling with a small aluminum boat and electric motor helped us to develop an intimate knowledge of the lake and its environs. I believe that this prior experience helped us out enormously later on when we would put to its waters with our belly boats and fly rods.
Fly fishing this lake is a dream. Only few parts of the lake become tougher to fish when winds whip up out of the northwest. I am particularly fond of the lake’s pencil reeds in the early summer and fall. I generally find a mixed bag of fish in these areas, especially if these areas are closer to the lakes mid-depths. If I do fish in the summer the only other real change in tactics will be to cast out from shallower areas to the first drop off or just to move out a bit of the first drop off and to fish a sinking line. From a fly fishing perspective a number of flies have produced well over the years and in many instances they correspond with specific hatches that will show up on the lake. Three patterns have been perennially productive over the years. Firstly a beaded nymph (sliver or gold and tied in an olive green. Secondly nymph patterns – Montana in a two tone olive has always been productive – and in the fall these same patterns will become more productive if you will tie in a tan component to the olive base. Finally , larger streamers will be very effective for larger trout cruising for stickleback minnows. Of course almost any lake pattern works on this lake, but I’d suggest the three described can be all you’ll need with a few variations including color and size.
Season is also significant when fishing for trophies. Later in spring and fall just before freeze-up generally are periods which produce the best fish.
How to Get There: Three miles north of Oakburn one mile east and an 1/8 of a mile north. If you get lost any one in the area will get you there.
Camping: No overnight camping is allowed at the lake but campers can find a beautiful campsite at Seech Lake about 3 miles east and two miles north – you might even want to try this lake as its pike and walleye like to bite. Other lakes of interest in the area: Patterson lake and North and east of Tokaruk about 1 ½ mile by the crow
Patterson lake as has been noted is a newly planted trout lake that has recently been opened to fishing and is part of the same flowage as Tokaruk. Regulations put on the lake have reduced limits and prohibited power boats on the lake. Reports from the first fisherman to fish the lake have been excellent. It is hoped that this lake doesn't go the way of Tokaruk with the incessant pounding the lake took over the winter months. Dummy Lake (or Blue Lake) and twin lakes are two other lakes in the area that might be worth a peak. Certainly Arrow Lake to the west (about 7.5 miles) is a great walleye destination.