SW Manitoba Trophy Trout

Fishing Report by Larry Tullis

I cast my Beaver Leech into a hole in the reeds from my pontoon boat.  A short hesitation and then the retrieve began.  Within two strips something big ripped the leech fly so hard I was surprised the 2x tippet held.  The water boiled and a beautiful, fat 25 inch rainbow rocketed into the air, ripped me into my backing, luckily into open water, and then tail-walked some more before starting to tire.  It was an act though and when it saw the pontoon boat, it zipped into my backing again, making the fly reel sing its sweet song.  Whoa!  That is what Stillwater fly fishing is about!  Over-sized trout plowed from the shallows of a peaceful lake!

While driving through the Kanola and wheat fields of Southern Canada one would think that this the domain of farmers only and not fly fishermen but the truth is that there are a unique set of circumstances that have created some excellent Stillwater fishing for trophy trout.  First is the fact that there are many large and small lakes left over from the glaciers retreating at the end of the last ice age.  Just take a look at Google Earth around and north of Russel Manitoba and any angler will begin salivating at the seemingly infinite possibilities.  Second factor is that this is a prime zone for growing trout at incredible rates.  It’s not too hot in the summer, not too far north and not too high elevation….perfect for growing the abundant fish foods that feed big trout.  Third, many of the fisheries have been groomed by the fish and game managers.  Even local townsfolk, businesses and traveling anglers have pitched in considerably to make it all happen.

The problem previously was that some of the lakes had a winter or summer kill problem due to a lack of oxygenation at critical times.  This occasionally killed all fish in the lake and then managers had to start over when able.  This was heartbreaking for the locals and traveling anglers that got rumors of the 20-30+ inch fish possible when the lakes were in good shape.  Enter private lake management strategies, but on public waters!  Seeing the potential, local expert anglers such as Bob Sheedy, biologist Ken Kansas and some traveling stillwater anglers got together to brainstorm and develop a plan to put aerators on the lakes to prevent low-oxygen periods from killing fish.  The aerators cost money to buy and operate, so money was acquired from government, local businesses, individuals and grants to do studies, install the hardware and pay for its operation and maintenance.

The managing entity is called FLIPPR (Fish and Lake Improvement Program for the Parkland).  A quick web search of this acronym or other lake names from below will get you various informative sites.  Write FLIPPR at Box 368, Russel, MB, Canada R0J 1W0 or call 204-564-2447 or e-mail [email protected] for an area fishing guide and map.

I had heard about these fisheries for years from friends who are stillwater fiends and I first went there several years ago and had an absolute ball plying the waters for these brutishly large trout.  I returned again just last June and was pleased that even more waters are in the process of being optimized for trout.

Tukaruk Lake, near the small town of Rossburn, is a prime example.  It had previously produced very large trout (to 30 inches) but had died due to a winterkill.  Just recently an aerator was installed and the fish are already 15-21 inches and the hardest fighting rainbow and brown trout I’ve ever had the pleasure to catch on a fly, including Alaska trout!  They should grow some 23-24 inch trout by this fall, 2009, and who knows by next spring. Tukaruk Lake is a natural reed-lined lake with very clear water and lots of leeches, scuds, minnows, caddis, damsels and daphnia.  Bank fishing is almost out of the question due to the reed and weed lined shores so it’s a perfect pontoon boat lake.  Wind is common on these Glacial Shield lakes so a boat that handles wind is suggested, as is an electric motor to make moving around and bucking the wind much easier than just with fins or oars.  See below for the ideal stillwater boat and riggings for this area.

Nearby Patterson Lake is the flagship FLIPPR managed fishery that has already proven itself as a hawg trout producing lake year after year.  You may not catch huge numbers here but the average trout is 20-26 inches and an occasional 30 incher is boated.  It now has a campground with power and water.  Small boats with electrics are allowed, but no gas motors.

When fishing these lakes I regularly use the Russel Inn in Russel as a base of operations.  It's a nice central location for many of the lakes and they have great facilities, including a pool, and love traveling anglers.  They are one of the many private companies that have donated to the cause of improving local fisheries, something that should be emulated by many other locations.  The small town atmosphere adds to the trip.  Locals donate to the cause because it benefits their businesses and tax base, even those who don’t fish, by bringing in tourism business and better fishing.  So if you go, spread your money around without worry, you’re helping make a good thing happen.  Lodging, camping, restaurants, fishing licenses and other services are quite reasonable and available in most towns.  Just ask around.

Pybus Lake is the newest addition to this growing list of FLIPPR managed lakes.  It has browns, rainbows and tiger trout to 18 inches and should be an awesome fishery by next year.

Twin Lakes, north of Roblin is a fun lake for the exotic looking Tiger Trout (a brown and brook cross).  The first time I fished this lake there were lots of 12-20 inch tigers and catching 40 to maybe 100 fish in a day was possible.  The fishing this June was slower but I got all sizes of fish to 24 inches.  This year to year variation is common and there are many options if one lake doesn’t do it for you.

Adjacent to Roblin is E. and W. Goose Lakes.  They have both produced trout to 30+ inches and will be one of the locations for the Canadian Flyfishing Championships in 2010.  With all the choices for great fishing in Canada, this choice of contest locations is an excellent testimony to the quality of fishing possible.

During my first trip to Manitoba I heard about more trophy lakes north of Roblin in the Duck Mountain Park.  This park currently has free entrance fees and has some gorgeous forest-lined lakes with nice lodges and campgrounds for families or camping anglers.  These are not FLIPPR manages lakes but often provide a nice side trip from the lakes a little south of here and many of these lakes have produced trout into that elusive 30+ inch range.  Splakes, brookies, bows, browns, northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass and perch are often plentiful and each lake has its own character.  Try Gull Lake, Perch Lake, Beautiful Lake, E. Blue Lake, Two Mile Lake, Laurie Lake and any of the other dozens of lakes in the area that strikes your fancy.  If you must fish a stream, in this land of lakes, go north to the Steeprock River or North Duck River.  Any further north and you’ll be in massive tracts of wilderness that are better accessed through full-service, fly-in fishing lodges.  See www.parklandtourism.com for more info.  You’ll also probably hear about Barbe Lake, where a 16 pound brook trout was recently caught and released, and a dozen other fisheries spread around the area that have trophy trout potential, like one secret lake that produces some 30+ inch tiger trout.

As promised, let me outline the perfect stillwater boat for this and other lake infested areas.  I helped develop the Outlaw Rebel from www.northforkoutdoors.com to be stable enough to stand up on, be very easy to handle in the wind and to accommodate an electric motor easily and still fit two of them, setup and stacked, in the back of a full-size truck bed or closed trailer.  It is quite simply the best lake personal fishing craft on the market but also is rated for class III rivers as a bonus.

Float tubes work well if fish are close to a launching point but most of the lakes are big enough that mobility is required and boat ramps are sparse.  Small boats and canoes are often seen but I find that hard-sided boats tend to spook fish, especially the bigger ones, at further distances than do inflatable pontoon boats, plus they are harder to maneuver and fish at the same time.

I recommend 2-3 forms of propulsion, usually fins for instant hands-free maneuvering and an electric motor (30-55 lb. thrust) for compensating for wind and covering distance when needed.  Use them in conjunction for an awesome fishing machine.  Set the motor up to pull you backwards while you use fins to steer.  That leaves your hands to do all the serious fishing.  If no motor, use oars and fins.  You may want an anchor to hold position in the wind.  Make sure you bring a good-sized deep cycle battery for your motor and bring an appropriate charging unit you can use to recharge the battery at night.

Sonar units are valuable more for water depth than actual fish finding.  Lake fish are often caught in certain depth zones so knowing how deep the water is where you’re fishing and catching is very important and will help you choose fly lines and fishing zones.  Some portable sonar units have batteries built-in and other std. boat models hook up to your motor battery.  The transducer can be strapped on or hooked to a post from the frame.  Line control is very important and a good stripping apron is recommended to hold your fly line.  An oversized hand net with soft mesh or rubber netting is suggested or you’ll lose many fish at boat-side.  Bring your camera for lots of hero shots because many of the lakes above have 1 or 0 fish limits.

Most stillwater anglers use 9’ 5-7 weight fly rods, although an 8 weight isn’t too big for some big fish and windy days.  Floating lines are good if fish are rising or if you want to strike indicator fish (with a sliding strike indicator system) with nymphs and scuds.  Typically, anglers use a clear, slow sinking lake line or a faster type III-IV sinking line with a variety of wet flies, leeches, crustaceans and streamers.  Spend some time looking at and tying or buying the specialty flies that have proven themselves on these lakes but also bring your favorite lake patterns from home.

Give Manitoba’s Parklands a try and you’ll have added a fun, civilized yet exciting fishing trip for oversized trout to your yearly outdoor schedule.  I like early and late summer but you can go may through October.  Fringe seasons can be very cold so prep for bad weather but hope for good.  I can say that once you go, you’ll want to go back!  You’ll not only find some favorites you must return to but dream about some of the other lakes you’ll want to try as well.  Make it a fishing tradition!  Several friends from here in Utah spend a month every year fishing the remarkable fisheries of SW Manitoba.  Put it on your list and calendar.