POINTE DU BOIS -- Brilliant sunshine met us as we pulled up to Trail End Camp on the Winnipeg River on Wednesday.
Vance and Maureen Hrechkosy were outside the main lodge to greet the six students from Lac du Bonnet who had been offered a dream fishing trip -- a day on the water with Vance Hrechkosy in his 8.5-metre aluminum charter boat. This rig will comfortably fish eight people and is so popular he has to turn a lot of business away.
Hrechkosy set aside his charter fee of $700 to give these students a memory they will have for the rest of their lives. Supported by the Lac du Bonnet Wildlife Association and organized by local teacher Anthony Penner, we had picked up the students at Centennial School in Lac du Bonnet for the short drive to Pointe du Bois.
Nestled on a small bay at the start of the Winnipeg River at Pointe du Bois, Trail End Camp is a favourite destination for anglers in the know. Not only is the fishing great, but the place is affordable, allowing anglers to spend money on bait and boat gas instead of accommodations and frills. Travel you will, with some 60 kilometres of river to navigate, all of it prime fishing waters as you headquarter out of this comfortable and friendly lodge.
Anybody who has ever visited Pointe du Bois and fished the river above the dam will attest to the rugged and wild nature of the river and the landscape itself. This year, though, record-high water levels have changed the landscape, making whole islands disappear. High waters have also turned famous Lamprey Falls into a torrent. Hrechkosy started working on the river full time in 1986 and then spent some time in northern Ontario, returning to the Winnipeg River in 1990 after his family bought Trail End.
He has an incredible wealth of knowledge about the area and is one of the best storytellers you will ever have the chance to listen to.
He took us up the river to an area called Big Bay to fish an underwater point. Hrechkosy said the current was so fast in the main river, he has had to fish slack water areas most of the season. On this day, it paid off in spades as we caught a number of walleye and pike at the first place we stopped. The fishing was so good, we didn't have to move once all morning. What a treat for the students, catching fish and learning how to operate a jig from Hrechkosy, Penner and myself. One student, Kenna, had never caught a fish before. By the end of the day, she would have bragging rights, landing 15 fish on her own.
While known for an abundant walleye population, there are a myriad of back bays on this section of the Winnipeg River. Pretty much all of them hold northern pike at one time of the year. Given the diversity of forage and the amount of cover for these fish, they get big. Very big.
A number of Master Angler pike are landed during the open water season, with some truly monster pike registered in the hard water period -- fish heavier than 14 kilograms. Hrechkosy says one of the best times of the year to catch the true monsters of the Winnipeg River is late August, when the trophy pike target mooneye as their main forage, using a Mepps Syclops in a silver pattern. He targets steep banks that drop off into the main river channel, and casts and trolls for the monster pike that are trying to corral mooneye in these areas and drive them up against the sharp drop-offs.
Hrechkosy says the high, fast water has not hurt fishing this year. In fact, he says this has been one of the best years ever. He credits high-quality management regulations that have been in place for a number of years for protecting and improving the fishery. He also says the increased population of rainbow smelt has provided high-protein forage for the walleye, smallmouth bass and pike to get really big.
If you can't afford to own a cottage and you want to go to a remote area of Manitoba, head up to Pointe du Bois and give the Winnipeg River a try. Operations like Trail End Camp serve to give the consumer a chance at a first-class experience while keeping the price in line. Visit them online at www.trailendcamp.com.
Angler's notes: Selkirk Park is the starting point for the inaugural Selkirk Wild Walleye Derby on Saturday, Sept. 20, a fundraiser for the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba. Organizer Dan Sernyk is anticipating great interest in the derby and says he is expecting more than 100 boats on the water, with more than 350 anglers trying to catch the biggest walleye of the day. People will also be allowed to fish off the shore in Selkirk Park. Sernyk, who has organized more than 35 fishing derbies and team tournaments since 1984, said he's very excited about this particular derby because it is helping to raise money for a charitable organization that is "near and dear" to his heart.