I figure it's almost ice-fishing time in Manitoba when I look at the weather channel and see the temperature registering at -11 Celsius.
Hopefully, the snow will hold off until we get a good, solid skim of ice on our small lakes and ponds. I am already getting prepared for the first ice-fishing trip, charging the battery on my Humminbird Flasher so this important piece of equipment is ready to go.
There is a whole list of things to do: fresh line on my ice-fishing reels, new gas in my auger, to mention just a few. Of course, I need to go down to my favourite tackle store to see what's new in the line of ice-fishing products. For the last two months, fishing-tackle retailers have been stocking the shelves in anticipation of another banner season in this part of the world. Ice fishing has been a huge growth industry in Manitoba, a lot of it having to do with the incredible walleye fishery on Lake Winnipeg.
I can still vividly remember our first ice-fishing adventure of last year on Grey Cup day in Canada. Two friends and I celebrated by heading to Tokaruk Lake, one of the most famous of all stocked trout waters in Manitoba. Tokaruk is just north of Oakburn, and a stone's throw away from another of Manitoba's most famous trout waters, Patterson Lake.
As we arrive at the small boat launch and dock at just before 8 a.m., we see another couple of anglers set up in the western corner of the lake, fishing a shallow, weedy bay. As we pull our small sleighs out on the lake, schools of minnows dart back and forth under our feet in the clear ice. Though for some it might seem disconcerting, to us it meant the lake was alive and healthy.
Quickly drilling a series of holes in the five inches of good ice, we tried a variety of spots from shallow to about nine feet of water off the edge of the weed line. Here we set up our portable tent and heater, a place to get out of a cool west wind that was making ice. Steven took this occasion to be the rover, the guy who checks out all the different depths, while I hunkered down in the tent with two lines set up.
For 20 minutes all was quiet. Then my flasher lit up as something large caused the Humminbird to show a bright orange. Quietly getting off my pail, I peered down the series of four holes we had drilled side by side. Sure enough, there he was, an extremely large rainbow cruising the bottom, checking out my baits.
On the end of one line I had the Northlands Bro Bug jig-rigged with a dead salted shiner minnow in the middle, just and on the other, a Northland Mud Bug tipped with a yellow power honey worm onto which I had added a Berkley orange sparkle power egg. Lo and behold, after a bump, the big rainbow engulfed the honey worm and the battle was on. After about a dozen smoking runs, I could see this massive rainbow swim around under my feet. After getting the fish to the hole 10 different times, it would make another heart-pounding run. What a way to kick off the ice fishing season, fighting one of the strongest fighting fish that exists in this province!
Of course, on the first fish of the season I would make a rookie mistake! As I tried to force the head of the fish up the hole, I would straighten the hook out on this light wire jig. I could only shake my head in amazement at the power of this Tokaruk rainbow. Rerigging, I had 10 minutes to wait this time before my flasher lit up once again, one rod dipping to the hole. Setting the hook, I could feel the jig slipping out of the fish's mouth. Sure enough, as I reeled in and looked down the hole, I could see another massive rainbow swimming near the bottom in the crystal-clear water.
Rehooking a salted shiner, I fluttered it back to the bottom. As the bait got two-thirds of the way down, the rainbow slammed it, picking the minnow right off the hook. Reeling back in again, I put another on and dropped it back down. This time, the rainbow came straight on at the jig, engulfing the bait. There was no doubt I had the rainbow hooked well this time, as my four-pound Fireline disappeared off my spool at an alarming rate.
This fish was in the same size category as the one I had just lost, so I was determined not to put too much pressure on. After another memorable battle, I managed to get this Tokaruk trophy up the five inches of ice. After a couple of quick pictures, this Manitoba Master Angler was released to fight another day. I can hardly wait for round 2 this year.
ANGLER'S NOTES: Twelve-year-old Jackie St. Hilaire from St. Malo School has won the 2011 Youth Angling Art Competition. A panel of five judges chose her painting from the 115 entries. Her picture will adorn the front of the 2011 Youth Angling Card.