An extremely early spring in southern Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario has many anglers already in boats on open water. Unfortunately for southern Manitoba tourism operators, most of those anglers are off to Northwestern Ontario, taking their tourism dollars with them.
While we are between fishing seasons here, in Northwestern Ontario anglers can not only fish for trout but pretty much any other species except walleye at this time of the year.
This discrepancy has upset tourism operators in southern Manitoba for a long time. In a year like this one, it will cost them a month and a half of business. In a tough economy, they say it is a harsh penalty for antiquated legislation.
Vance Hrechkosy of Trail End Camps is one of those operators. He and other tourism operators have sent a letter of concern to the Manitoba government outlining why the changes need to be made. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
"Since 1948 the provincial government has had a General Closure policy on spring angling, which takes effect on March 31st till the middle of May, or normally the Mother's Day weekend. This grossly outdated closure, in effect, brings a stagnant period of time into play for any business that is associated with the angling industry in this province.
"From tourism operations, to the local gas stations, to hotels and motels, and to generally any business that is associated with the angling industry.
"Our province once again lags behind other areas that are right next door. Ontario has got it right. The province has incorporated a closure by species policy, not a general closure policy. In Ontario, the walleye season ends on April 15. However, this does not prevent the angling community from pursuing other worthwhile and entertaining species, such as northern pike, smallmouth bass, etc. By doing so, the Ontario economy is allowed to continue to thrive and it continues to create employment opportunities associated with the sport fishing industry."
Every spring I am one of those anglers who venture to Northwestern Ontario to get in some early season action, usually on Lake of the Woods. For the last couple of years I have fished with Mike Asher, an angler television fishing show host Dave Mercer called the best muskie and pike guide in Canada. On both early spring trips we were faced with conditions anglers hate, cold fronts with drops in surface water temperatures that turn fish off.
Surprise, both times we had days that most anglers would talk about for years. On our first stop, we started by fishing at the outer edge of a large bay with a feeder creek situated at the back end. Mike wanted to check if any of the large fish had moved out a little deeper because of a recent drop of surface water temperature. He was slow rolling a big white spinnerbait to search for active fish while I had cast out a Rapala X-Rap.
Ten minutes later, I switched over to a coffee flavoured Strike King soft plastic shad that looks pretty close to a smelt, one of the prime food sources on this body of water. In no time I had three fish on, one a pike that was close to 40 inches. This fish came from a shoreline area that was wind protected, offering fish in the bay a little warmer water.
Mike soon changed over to a yellow soft plastic jerk bait made by Berkley. We both started to consistently hook up small- and medium-sized fish. As we headed back into the bay a small stream was dumping warm water in a large pool that was deeper than the rest of the bay. As Mike carefully positioned his boat so as not to spook any fish in the area, we made long casts to the edges of the pool. Allowing our baits to sink, we would slowly twitch them back to the boat. I hooked up with another really good pike right at the side of the boat, a 41-inch beauty with a broad back and a healthy desire to get free. After two or three runs under the boat, Mike managed to get a grip on the fish for a quick picture and release.
Mike, who has caught 12 pike at the magical 50-inch or longer mark, prefers not to use a net if at all possible. He believes that many nets on the market today leave welts on the fish, which can then become infected. While pike can be intimidating creatures for the average angler, once you learn how to deal with them, Mike believes hand landing, in most cases, is the way to go.
By the time we left the area, we had caught and released four fish in the 40-inch-plus range, a pretty good day no matter what part of the world you fish in.