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High water bringing big fish closer to shore

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Naomi Lavoie of Lac du Bonnet with the trophy northern pike she caught on Hay Bay.


Naomi Lavoie of Lac du Bonnet with the trophy northern pike she caught on Hay Bay.

Ciscoes were popping up all over the surface of the mirror-calm lake, scooping up insects that were struggling to break the surface film.

Every once in a while, a huge splash would interrupt the calm. With the ciscoes on the surface and vulnerable, marauding pike were making short work of these tasty morsels.

The insects were hatching out of the mud on a huge mid-lake mud flat. We had stopped the boat at the eastern tip of this flat and thrown out a marker buoy to orient us on an otherwise featureless landscape.

We hadn't planned on fishing pike this day but as luck would have it, when I dropped my jig-and-minnow combination over the side of the boat, it failed to reach the bottom. Closing the bail on my spinning reel and taking up slack line brought a sudden resistance, so much so I couldn't budge my lure for what seemed an eternity.

My fishing partner, a veteran of many a campaign, knew exactly what had happened. As the immovable object started to slide sideways, we knew all hell was about to break loose.

Sure enough, this big fish had realized something wasn't quite right and surged past the boat, screaming off the eight-pound test line I had rigged for catching walleye.

As I moved to the bow of my boat, I asked my fishing partner to start up the big motor and give chase. Line was disappearing off my spool at an alarming rate, and I knew if we didn't reclaim some soon, we would never get the opportunity to see what was on the other end.

Just in time, I started to gain some line, and with the huge initial run taken I figured it was just a waiting game. Line would come in, line would go out, to be repeated over and over.

After what seemed an eternity, the body of this large fish could be seen about two metres down in the water. It was a trophy pike, a fine specimen with impressive girth brought about by enjoying a constant diet of ciscoes. After landing the pike and taking a quick picture, we released this magnificent fish back into the lake.

It was just such a story that happened recently to Naomi Lavoie of Lac du Bonnet. She was fishing Hay Bay on the Winnipeg River system when a massive 114-centimetre pike grabbed her walleye spinner.

You can expect more of this kind of catches as high water in Manitoba opens up new territory to hungry fish. Flooded vegetation holds huge amounts of food for fish, which will bring them in tight to shore to take advantage.

This is great news for the shore angler, who now has access to these shallow fish. When conditions are like this, I like to use a slip float to prevent snags in all the debris. Just make sure your bait is a bit off the bottom and hang on.

With the advent of warmer weather, insect hatches have become intense on our lakes, rivers and streams. On that particular day, with a total lack of wind, we had to leave the lake early to get away from the insects that had made the fishing downright miserable. Our mouths, noses and ears were in constant danger, and it was one of the few times I would have opted to have a bug net over my head.

Still, with a little breeze the day would have been gorgeous, with big fish to be caught. This pattern should hold for most of this month, and anglers should key in on it if they want to catch trophy fish of all species.

Ciscoes exist in many of our lakes across Western Canada, growing to a maximum size of 40 centimetres and an age of 10. They are fairly easy to spot when surface feeding, with a dorsal fin that becomes very visible when they are up scooping insects. Lake trout, walleye, northern pike, burbot and even channel catfish will feast on these high-protein fish when given the opportunity.

While the cisco can be difficult to catch, not so the predators after them. One of the best methods is to troll with shallow running crankbaits to cover water and contact active fish.

If you spot an area with a lot of surface-feeding activity, I like to cast out a big streamer fly on my eight-weight fly rod, slowing stripping it back to the boat about a metre below the surface. White is an obvious choice, though a cisco is not a bright silver like a goldeye. It has a greyish-green appearance, with more intense silver colouration toward the tail. The cisco and shortjaw cisco differ from lake whitefish in mouth configuration, with what biologists call a terminal mouth.


ANGLER NOTES: Catfishing along the length of the Red and Assiniboine rivers remains spectacular, with some great fishing right within city limits.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2014 C10

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