Tale of the Greenbacks

Every year an unusual phenomenon happens on Lake Winnipeg. Among the golden walleye, a significant number of the species sporting a shocking green shade start showing up. We asked Lake Winnipeg hardwater guide Jason Hamilton—who also happens to be a biologist—of Jason Hamilton Outdoors what’s going on.

Q: What is a greenback?

A: The term used to describe the iridescent green walleye in Lake Winnipeg.

Q: Are they biologically any different from regular walleye?

A: They aren’t genetically different, from other walleye, however, with the large amounts of bait fish in Lake Winnipeg, greenbacks grow quickly. The unique colouration is thought to be due to the limestone substrate around Lake Winnipeg.

Q: Are they only found on the Red River and in Lake Winnipeg?

A: Though there are various places where walleye have different colourations, a greenback is unique to Lake Winnipeg and its tributaries.

Q: When does the run of greenbacks start? When does it typically end?

A: These fish start to run up the rivers in the south basin of Lake Winnipeg in September, where some will overwinter. The bulk of the greenbacks move south towards the Red, Winnipeg and other rivers in the south basin preparing for a spawning run in early spring, after which the fish disperse throughout the lake.

Q: In hard water season, what kind of tackle is recommended to catch greenbacks?

A: Lipless crank baits or rattle baits are the go-to bait to locate fish in the vast flats of Lake Winnipeg. Spoons and jigs tipped with live or salted shiners will help tease finicky fish into eating. Due to the structure of the lake and how greenbacks have to chase their prey, they usually strike baits viciously.

Q: At what depth are greenbacks usually found?

A: In winter most of the fishing for greenbacks in Lake Winnipeg takes place in five to 20 feet of water.

Q: What size of greenbacks should be kept as eaters?

A: These fish are big for their length. Fish in the 14 to 20 inch range are perfect for the pan. Smaller fish usually taste better and are not the prime spawning contributors to the population.