Header Image: courtesy of Scott Gardner
By: Scott Gardner
The Canadian province of Manitoba is, quite simply, a world-class fishing destination. Its countless remote lakes and rivers are home to an abundance of fat walleye, sparkling rainbow trout, record-book northern pike and lake trout, and so much more. Without a doubt, it is one of the best places in North America to catch the fish of a lifetime. Remarkably, this natural bounty is only a few hours’ flight from major American cities.
1 Manitoba has an extraordinary variety of fishing experiences
Located in the geographical centre of Canada, Manitoba’s diverse landscape ranges from prairie grasslands to lakes, forests, and sub-arctic tundra. As a result, the province boasts a quality and variety of freshwater sportfishing that’s unparalleled in North America. Premier trophy game fish include six species of trout, northern pike, walleye, channel catfish, and even exotic Arctic grayling.
Visiting anglers are served by numerous fishing lodges and outfitters, with many being family-run and offering a variety of unique adventures. Some, such as the executive cabins of Sasa-ginni-gak Lodge or the luxury chalets of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, are reached within a short drive from Winnipeg’s International Airport, followed by a quick floatplane hop. Others, such as Big Sand Lake Lodge and The Lodge at Little Duck, offer lush accommodations hundreds of miles north, deep into Manitoba’s vast, remote wilderness.
2 Blue-ribbon, drive-to trout fishing in the Parkland region
Northwest of Winnipeg, rolling hills and canola fields give way to Manitoba’s Parkland region—a unique landscape of expansive farmland, forests, lakes, and dramatic escarpments. For over 20 years, government and local conservation groups have managed dozens of small, nutrient-rich lakes that produce rainbow, brown, brook, splake, and, occasionally, “tiger trout” of epic proportions. This may be the best place in North America to catch a trophy trout on a fly rod.
With fly fishing techniques often being specific to each fishery, it’s best to use a local guide service such as Birdtail Waterfowl or Alpine Country Outfitters. These services offer accommodations, meals, fly fishing equipment, instruction, and customized boats to guide anglers to the fish.
3 Manitoba’s “Land of the Giants”—hooking up on that fish of a lifetime
Why is Manitoba’s famed Northern Region called “Land of the Giants?” Because far-north destinations like Big Sand Lake Lodge offer opportunities to catch monster lake trout that commonly exceed 40 inches. Then there are the northern pike.
Big pike are commonly caught throughout Manitoba, but the remote fly-in lakes and rivers of the province’s Northern Region are some of the best places in the world to catch pike over 46 inches. With both species being aggressive predators, the opportunity to hook and land that fish of a lifetime is as real as it gets.
4 You can sight-cast for huge fish with a fly rod
Few angling experiences are as exciting as spotting a big fish in clear, shallow water and casting to it to provoke a strike. This kind of sight fishing is often done on saltwater flats, where catching the skittish fish takes a lot of skill. But at far-north locations like The Lodge at Little Duck, big pike are often willing to smash a well-placed fly.
Because of the cold water, giant northerns often bask in the shallows throughout the open water season, offering an amazing sight fishing experience—even for novice fly anglers. If you can cast a fly within striking distance of a big northern, chances are that you will be met with a vicious strike and a flurry of mind-blowing runs and rolls.
5 Manitoba has a world-class conservation ethic
Manitoba’s outstanding fishing is due to more than just its vast wilderness. The province has an impressive conservation ethic that has set a precedent throughout North America.
To aid in the live release of trophy fish, it’s mandatory that all anglers in Manitoba use barbless hooks. This has spawned a culture of catch-and-release with various destinations fostering high-quality destinations that strictly forbid the harvest of trophy fish. Some, like Sasa-ginni-gak Lodge, even enforce possession limits below what the province allows, all to manage and sustain their high-quality fishery.
6 Manitoba will officially designate you a Master Angler
A big part of Manitoba’s conservation ethic is complimented by the province’s Master Angler program. For qualifying species that you catch and enter, you receive a certificate and pin in recognition of your accomplishment, and your catch is permanently entered in the Master Angler record book. Additional honors are given to anglers who catch multiple species and who practice catch and release.
In 2015 alone, more than 10,000 trophy fish from 30 species were caught and recorded, and 90 percent were released. At Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, for example, so many Master Angler fish have been boated over the years that their website has a searchable database of every angler’s trophy catch dating back to 1990.
7 The classic Canadian shore lunch
Because Manitoba’s fish populations are so healthy, anglers are often allowed to keep a limit of fish for a great Canadian tradition: shore lunch. Many lodges host a midday shore lunch that commonly occur lakeside on a picturesque island or point. While anglers swap stories about the one that got away, the guides fillet and prepare the fish.
Every lodge has its own secret recipe, but classic battered fillets shallow-fried in a cast-iron skillet over a crackling open fire along with potatoes, corn, beans, and other goodies will certainly be on the menu. Dining on fresh-fried walleye in the clean air and sunshine makes for a truly unforgettable outdoor experience.
This article first appeared in OutdoorHub on January 28, 2016, and was produced in partnership with Destination Canada and Travel Manitoba.