Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mystique of the mighty largemouth

Mary Jane Reservoir a unique fishery in need of aid

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AS we came to a bend in the back-country road we could see a small body of water stretching below us. There were a couple of trucks and trailers parked by a boat launch. Just a little further south of the launch was an embankment were the Mary Jane River had been dammed to form a small reservoir amongst the rolling farm land just north and west of Manitou, in south-central Manitoba.

We made the trek to check out the only self-sustaining largemouth bass population in the province. Dino Branfield, our guide on this adventure, had more than a passing interest in these fish. He has been lobbying government for years to help these fish survive in this small body of water.

Most anglers who come to Mary Jane Reservoir fish for the walleye that have been stocked for the last few years. Unfortunately, these fish never get much past 38 centimetres (15 inches) because of a lack of forage.

Branfield has caught some largemouth every year for the last three years, including some smaller specimens that obviously were offspring of the original stocking. He also is a member of the Pembina Valley Game and Fish league that would like to see the largemouth protected and helped in any way possible because of the uniqueness of the fishery. In that regard, he has talked to Manitoba Fisheries about stocking crappies to help widen the forage base for the largemouth bass.

Mary Jane Reservoir has a small, private campground on the lake, great for a little family adventure in southern Manitoba. You can find the reservoir by heading six kilometres west of Manitou until you come to a sign advertising the Archibald Museum. Turn north on the grid road for three kilometres and you will see a sign on your right-hand side pointing out the reservoir. If you want to camp, you have to go over and get the keys to the campground at the Archibald Museum.

Meantime, the Lake of the Woods largemouth bass population has been getting better every year. A number of competitors who fish the Kenora Bass International every year in early August have switched from smallmouth to largemouth because of the size of the fish that are available, many in the two-kilogram range.

In the summertime these fish usually are found associated with heavy cover. I can remember many a day pulling these fish out of some incredibly heavy slop in the back bays that dot this unique body of water.

That is not always the case, however. One of the most incredible moments of my long fishing career came in Little Echo Bay, south of the Clearwater Bay in Lake of the Woods, while I was participating in the tournament some 10 years ago.

My partner and myself had been targeting smallmouth bass along one of the sharp breaking rock faces in the lake when we saw a school of large fish swimming just below the surface out over deeper water. We were both using white tube jigs to imitate ciscoe in this clear water and my partner, who was on the back of the boat, threw his lure right to the school of fish. Wham, one grabbed the bait immediately and lumbered out of the water in a semi-belly flop that only a real big largemouth can do.

Unfortunately, after two cranks of the reel the fish came unhooked.

Turning the boat on a dime, I cast as far as I could to the same school, with the same result; a big fish hooked, airborne and lost.

To this day it is one of the most memorable moments of my fishing career, just an indication of the presence and mystique of the mighty largemouth bass.

Anglers notes:

The five official competition locations for the FFC National Fly Fishing Championships have been selected. The inaugural championship event will take place Sept. 6-12 in Manitoba's Parkland region.

The host committee, in conjunction with the hosting organization, FLIPPR, was instructed by Fly Fishing Canada to include two streams among the competition locations for the championships.

"The 2004 World Fly Fishing Championships will take place in Slovakia," said Jack Simpson, executive director of Fly Fishing Canada. "It is expected that for those championships, all competition locations will be on streams so we want Team Canada to demonstrate their stream fishing skills as part of this championship."

The Parkland locations selected for the championships include both stocked lakes and natural fish habitat.

They are: East Goose Lake, Tokaryk Lake, Gull Lake, Pine River and Shell River (Lower Reach).

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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