Manitoba lake teems with big northern pike, walleyes

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 Last week, JoAnn and I returned from three weeks of fishing and vacationing with family and friends in Minnesota and Canada.

As much as I love Montana and Montana fishing, it is always fun to return to my homeland in Minnesota and experience its boundless fishing opportunities. I love to slowly explore those lakes in my boat, using electronic lake contour maps and my fish finder to locate schools of fish and good fish holding habitat.

I am always looking for a honey hole full of large fish eager to bite my hook. The fun is in the search or chase, not in the actual catching of fish. Catching fish is merely the frosting on the cake.

While those types of fishing experiences are fun, once in a while it is great to simply catch lots of fish until your arm is tired. So that is why we drove to Winnipeg one day, then flew 400 miles north to Northern Manitoba to experience some world-class walleye and northern pike fishing.

We fished 50-mile-long Knee Lake, which is teeming with hungry walleyes and northern pike. This is the same trip I took last year with my son, Mike. We stayed at the North Star Resort on Knee Lake. Knee Lake is a catch-and-release lake, which means that all northern pike must be released. All walleyes, which Canadians refer to as pickerel, also must be released (except for keeping some for a shore dinner).

Last year, Mike and I each caught 75 to 100 fish a day. This year, JoAnn and I only caught about 50 fish per day. But the offset to catching fewer fish is that we caught more large fish. I believe the reason for catching fewer fish is that our resort replaced all the old-time Indian fishing guides with new guides. The new guides were very friendly and experienced, but did not have the same extensive knowledge of the lake and its fish holding habitat.

The daily fishing routine is that after a hearty breakfast in the lodge, we left the dock at 8 a.m., then motored for 10 to 20 minutes to a walleye hotspot to catch some walleyes for lunch.  Typically we jigged for walleyes off a rocky point in 6 to 12 feet of water. Canadian guides are like American anglers. They cannot fish in front of the resort but must motor across the lake for better fishing. It seems that all anglers believe that better fishing is always across the lake. This may be a reason to justify buying a fishing boat!

After catching enough fish for lunch, we fished primarily for large northern pike until lunch. Then our guide prepared the traditional Canadian shore lunch of deep-fat-fried walleye fillets, potatoes, vegetables and beans. Nothing beats eating fresh-caught walleye fillets cooked over an open fire. After lunch we fish for several hours, mainly targeting big pike.

On day two of our four-day trip, JoAnn outfished me terribly. We were slowly trolling in a lake channel between a long island and the north shore of the lake. The water was only 4 to 6 feet deep. JoAnn was trolling a medium-size Johnson silver minnow about 3 inches long. She was catching lots of walleyes and some pike up to 38 inches long. Her catch rate was 10 to 15 fish per hour.  

I caught a few fish, trolling a red-and-white weedless daredevil spoon. Then a pike tore off the hook from the spoon. So I switched to trolling a 5-inch-long weedless Johnson silver minnow. But I still caught far fewer fish then JoAnn.

The next day, in the same fishing hole, I continued to troll the large Johnson silver minnow but added a black and silver Gulp minnow. We joked about how Gulp advertises that when fish bite their bait, the fish, “won’t let go.” On that day, the Gulp ad was correct. I clearly out-fished JoAnn using Gulp minnows. After losing several Gulp minnows to fish, I exhausted my Gulp Minnow supply, so I  substituted Gulp night crawlers. They seemed to catch fish as well as the Gulp minnows. Finally, JoAnn added a Gulp night crawler to her bare spoon and her fishing catching rate increased.

 Manitoba has a system of record keeping for large pike and walleyes. It is called the Master Angler Awards program. Anglers who catch pike over 41 inches long or walleyes over 28 inches long can record those fish with the fisheries department. Fisherman can review those Master Angler records to see what lakes are producing the most large fish.  

Last year, my son caught the biggest pike, a nice 42-incher. I didn’t catch any Master Angler fish last year. This year I caught three Master Angler pike: 44-, 42- and 41-inch fish. JoAnn’s biggest pike was 41 inches, but she caught several 37- to 39-inch-long fish. It was our experience that this size pike seemed to put up a better fight than the larger ones. JoAnn also caught a 26-inch walleye.

After four days of world-class walleye and pike fishing, we headed home. We had clearly satisfied our need to catch lots of fish. Knee Lake scenery is spectacular with hundreds of rocky pine-covered islands. The lake is teeming with fish and you literally have great fishing to yourself. Besides JoAnn and I, there were only three other anglers fishing on this 50-mile-long lake. This was a wonderful fishing trip that all fishermen should experience once or twice in their lifetimes.

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