Mooneye Mania on the Winnipeg River – Manitoba Hot Bite

HuntFishMB – Eric Labaupa

The dog days of summer in Manitoba are a great time to get outdoors. Lazy days lying on the beach, epic family camping trips, and for anglers the annual Winnipeg River mooneye run. August is primetime to target these feisty, and tasty, schooling panfish. We headed out to the Nutimik Lake area of Whiteshell Provincial Park recently in search of some Master Angler-sized Moonies.

The mighty Winnipeg River originates at Lake of the Woods and empties into Lake Winnipeg. Along the way it meanders and widens into dozens of bays and lakes. Mooneye can be caught in all of the Manitoba waters including Nutimik Lake where we launched our boat on this day. I headed out with good friend Letanya Chartrand who had never caught one before. The water level in this area of the province is very low this year. I saw rocks and shoreline that I had never seen before so as always please use extreme caution when heading out on unfamiliar waters.

The plan was to head straight to current areas and drop lines along the eddies and adjacent calm water. A normally fast flowing rapid just north of the New Nutimik boat launch was just a trickle this year. We gave it a try but didn’t get any bites. The next set of fast water was down river at the neckdown outflow of the lake. This area called Barrier Point can be fished from boat or from shore. We watched as some campers on shore from nearby Opapiskaw Campground caught a mooneye and then a chunky smallmouth bass.

Mooneye during the run congregate in large numbers at the upper section of the water column. The depth of water can be anywhere but water in the 20’s to as shallow as 7 feet of water can be the most productive. The best setup to hook surface feeders such as these is a simple float rig. Since they have smaller mouths I choose to use size 4 hooks and a small split shot away from the hook to weigh it down. A slip bobber system works well as does a clip-on float since we are only setting the bait around three to four feet below.

I spot-locked the boat just off some current and threw my float rig with piece of nightcrawler towards the glacial rock shoreline. It didn’t take long at all until I saw the float dip below the surface. We had our first mooneye but it was just a smaller specimen. A couple of other boats stopped nearby and casted bobbers out as well but the action was slow from what we could see. The current areas which can be very good were not happening on this day. We changed it up and decided to target the deeper edge of weed lines in some side bays. We ended up hooking into another small one, a small pike, and a small walleye.

The search for a school of active monster mooneyes continued as we moved to much quieter water out of the south blowing wind. A long gradual slope just off the Nutimik beaches was a place where I had caught them from shore in the past. Almost instantly my float violently plunged out of sight. We had a massive 15inch mooneye successfully in the boat! While we were busy taking a few pictures, Letanya glanced back and couldn’t track her float. I excitedly told her to reel in her line. She caught a plump 13inch Moonie for a new personal best.

As is usually the case when fishing for mooneyes, once you find a couple of active ones it’s a good sign that you are on a school. We went on to catch a pile of fish including several more Master Anglers crossing the 14inch benchmark. They are a very fragile fish and have paper thin mouths. If you intend to catch and release it is good practice to do so with the ones that are lightly hooked on the outside and be prepared to save your creel for deep hooked catches. They do make fantastic table fare either smoked or grilled.

Often confused with its close cousin the goldeye, these fish generally inhabit different bodies of water and have physical characteristics to tell them apart. The most obvious difference is in the names as one has a dark ring around their eyes and the other a gold one. Mooneyes also grow to be slightly larger and wider in girth than their counterparts. Biologically the most accurate way to distinguish them is the location of their dorsal fins. Goldeyes have theirs begin behind where the anal fin starts while mooneye dorsal fins begin equal to or slightly ahead.

This area of the Whiteshell has plenty to offer by way of accommodations and access points. Resorts, campgrounds, and boat launches dot the highway from the park entrance to Nutimik Lake. A provincial park permit is required which can be purchased for the day, three-day period, or for the season. All of these sections here along the Winnipeg River have schools of mooneyes swimming in them. The ‘Hot Bite’ can go well into September so make plans to get out this way and get in on the action.

Visit our Mooneye page for more information about fishing for them in Manitoba.