Greenback walleye on Lake Winnipeg has been synonymous with fantastic fall season and hard water fishing for many years. Relatively untouched by comparison however, is the massive spring migration of these emerald fish back to the open expanse of the northern basin of the lake. To get there these schools have to swim through the narrow neck down channels that separate the southern and northern sections of ‘Big Windy’. This creates an early season window of opportunity where catching over a hundred greenbacks in the boat is the bar to aim for.
The very top of the southern basin stretches from Hecla Island across to the mouth of the Manigotagan River on the east side. The aforementioned channels run on either side of Black Island which lies in between. Fishing in the narrows themselves can be phenomenal, but also involves working in very heavy current as all of the water from the entirety of the mighty Red River basin is eventually funneled through here. Most of the angling takes place along the shoreline and adjacent off shore drop off and flats lining Hecla Island and the south side of Black. Another very popular spring greenback fishery here is the shallow delta of the Manigotagan River and in the river itself.
On a recent trip we launched out of Hecla Village. I watched in awe as I saw five healthy greenbacks get caught by the anglers on the pier before my partner could even return from parking the trailer. Seeing this, the thought of leaving him behind to get started fishing briefly crossed my mind. An easy decision was to try the immediate area as the shore fishing that we were witnessing was off the charts. One boat slow trolled the first depth transition line while the other vertical jigged the bottom of the drop off at 20 feet. It isn’t too often that hooking into two 26 inch greenbacks and a dozen ‘eaters’ in an hour constitutes a move to more productive water but that was the call as we were searching for the motherlode.
We stopped briefly at a spot on the edge of the narrows just west of Black Island. Tying on heavier jigs tipped with bigger plastic boot tails, we let them hang in the strong current near the bottom in 23 feet. We caught a 29.5 inch monster, another fat 26 incher, and a handful of cookie cutter 18’s. Once again this wasn’t enough to keep our attention and we made another move this time further east out of the current along the south shore of Black.
Starting shallow in 8 feet we slowly worked our way drift jigging down the slope into deeper water. We contacted fish at 14 feet and continued to get slammed all the way to 21 feet of water. Spot locking the boats anywhere in this range and jigging vertically was the most consistent method. We found that presentatiions on the move such as pulling spinners or casting away and hopping back wern't getting hit much. Frozen minnows and plastic tails that we were dropping down were about even in terms of effectiveness as either would get absolutely thumped.
We caught a total of well over 160 greenback walleyes between four anglers including five Master Angler sized fish at 28 inches and over. The average size of the greens we caught were either in the 17-19 inch eater range or hefty 24-26 inchers. The hot bite in this section of the lake reaches it's peak in early to mid June and tapers off quickly as July approaches.
For more information about fishing for walleye in Manitoba visit our Walleye page.
Check out our Master Angler pages to learn more about trophy catches and to register your fish in the program.