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Big brookies thriving -- and biting -- this winter

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With rapidly changing temperatures over the last couple of weeks, ice conditions have been getting worse in many places. If you're tired of fighting ice ridges and snow conditions, you might want to consider testing out some open water walleye fishing in Manitoba.

Reports indicate shore anglers at the Fairford River below the Fairford dam are catching walleye attracted to the baitfish stacked up in the fast flow. With the weather turning warmer again next week I will be heading north.

The lack of snow cover in the province this year is good news for our stocked fish populations. Sun penetration allows oxygen production in plant life in these lakes, reducing the chance of winter die-offs.

At this time of year, I enjoy trying to catch stocked brook trout. They are a fun fish to catch, though there are somewhat different techniques involved in fishing for them than rainbows. Brook trout have a life span of seven years on average, and it's the two-year-old fish in the half-kilogram range that are the most easily caught.

While brook trout tend to stay away from shallow water in the summer, a cover of ice allows these aggressive predators to roam the shallows looking for a variety of food, which could include minnows, leeches, crayfish, freshwater shrimp, clams, snails and frogs as well as aquatic insects.

Brook trout for that reason will cruise, and if you plan on being successful ice fishing for them, you have to cover a lot of area. Plan on drilling a numbers of holes along the edge to deeper water, then all the way up on the flats. Big fish can be in one metre of water, and if you have a portable shack, it sure pays to watch the action down the hole to see what is available.

It's pretty spectacular to see a big square tail brookie swirl around your bait. On our last trip the best action was when we first got there in the morning and then again later in the day. It sure helped having portable electronics along, and we ended up spending most of our time fishing two metres of water along a breakline into deeper water on the edge of the flats.

Every once in a while we would mark baitfish on the electronics and then quickly catch a nice brook trout in the one-kilogram range. I found using two-pound test line in combination with ultra light jigs worked best on this particular day. We would tip the jigs with the one-inch Berkley white power grub and pink Trout Power Bait and just move the bait once in a while. It seemed the movement of the bait would get the interest of the brook trout. It was important then to leave the jig stationary for a while, as the next movement of the bait would trigger the strike.

Bigger brook trout really like to hit something hard and while you might catch smaller fish on bait, the big boys do love to smash metal spoons. We ended up catching some big brookies, including one in the two-kilogram range, using jigging spoons up on the flats. Hang on when you do this though; you don't want to be using two-pound test for this technique. Bump it up to eight-pound test and use a different rod, one with medium action with a good drag system. The big boys cruising the flats will smash the bait with breakoffs common if you are caught unawares. I like to use the Northlands Buckshot Rattle Spoon for this though there are a number of jigging spoons on the market that will get the job done.

Since Manitoba Conservation continues its stocking of brook trout in both southeastern Manitoba and the Duck Mountains, there are plenty of opportunities out there to catch one of these good-looking specimens.

There are 80,000 brookies stocked every year, and some of the more productive bodies of water for ice fishing include Tugby and Hunt Lake in the Whiteshell. Smith says they have also stocked a couple of streams in the area: the Brokenhead River and East Pine Creek, near Sprague. There are also two brook trout fisheries in the Reynolds ponds system.

In the Duck Mountains, you will find them in Glad Lake, Persse Lake and West Blue Lake.

If you are interested in finding out where the different trout species in Manitoba are stocked, visit the Manitoba Fisheries website at www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/fish

dlamont@mymts.net

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2012 C12

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