Top 6 Early Season Lures and Baits Sure to Catch Fish in Manitoba

HuntFishMB – Eric Labaupa

We are a few weeks into this young open water season and already there have been many phenomenal catches across the province. From mighty lake sturgeon hookups on the Assiniboine River to hawg walleye catches on Traverse Bay, anglers have been enjoying successful trips onto Manitoba lakes and rivers. If your initial forays of the season have been less than stellar or you are studying up for that first trip of the year, we share some proven tactics and lures that have been working for anglers this May and should still be effective as we head into June.

Flasher Jigs

We’ve spoken several times before on our blog about the spring greenback walleye opportunities on Lake Winnipeg and its tributaries. This year being a later than normal spring has only intensified the prime window to hook into schools of these roaming predators. Anglers venturing out on boat or from shore have enjoyed banner days everywhere on the lake from Gimli pier to the northern stretches of the Red River to Traverse Bay at Pine Falls.

Greenback specialist Dan Demelo eagerly anticipates this bite every May and June, “Man, it was a good weekend! I caught several Master Anglers using a fire tiger coloured flasher jig and a salted minnow. I use a 3/8oz, or 1/4oz if I can get away with it, jig head that has a colorado blade attached. It provides a little more flash and vibration down there especially since they are honing in on schools of shiners to feed on.”

Avid multi-species angler James MacLean also capitalized on the spring run recently boating dozens of chunky walleyes just himself, not to mention all of the fish his boatmates hooked into as well. “We focussed on some strong current areas on the lake. To keep bottom contact I employed what I’ve been told is a ‘Stearns Rig’ (popularized by local walleye legend Roger Stearns). I tied a 1/4oz flasher jig about a foot up on the line using a palomar knot, then I attached a 3/8oz plain jig on the end. I had bait on both jigs but most of the bites came on the top jig with a flasher.”

Ned Rig

This relatively unremarkable rig has taken the bass world by storm the past few seasons. There is no denying its effectiveness however, especially in colder water such as during the early open water season in Manitoba. The ‘ned rig’ is essentially a mushroom head jig tipped with a short stick of soft plastic. The shape of the jig allows it to sit on the bottom with the plastic pointed up imitating a bug or crayfish which often proves irresistible to hungry smallmouth bass.

Avid bass angler Matt Gelley has been out targeting cold water smallies on his home waters of Lac Du Bonnet to great success. “Bottom contact baits like the ned rig using a Zman TRD are great at this time of year. I like to focus on classic shallow rocky structure and I also try out deeper where there are boulders and good bass terrain.”

Lipless crankbaits

The effectiveness of lipless crankbaits has been proven for many years especially for bass and other big game species across the continent. It has also proven to be a stellar vertical jigging lure as evidenced by its local popularity as a must-have ice fishing lure. A relatively newfound resurgence for the versatile hard bait is open water casting for shallow walleyes. Lake Manitoba is well known to have an incredible spring-time shoreline related bite for schools of hungry ‘eyes. Fan-casting noisy lipless crankbaits, or rattle-baits as they are also known, on shallow sandy flats will often end up in violent strikes from the fat walleyes that populate this huge lake.

fishing for Walleye on Lake Manitoba

HuntFishMB staffer Keevin Erickson recently went out in search of some prairie gold near his hometown of Lundar in the Interlake Region. “I didn’t’ have to look very long at all. Putted my boat out about 150 yards from shore, dropped anchor, and started casting my Jackall TN60 around. Pow! I had one take it immediately.” He shared that the bite has been incredible on the lake from the Delta area to the south all the way up to Lake Manitoba Narrows on the north side.

Shrimp on Pickerel Rigs

Many anglers seek out gamefish that have the potential for significant weight on the other end of the line. One of the more unheralded species that will certainly put your gear and arms to the test are freshwater drum. They are prevalent in most waterways that feed or flow out of Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg. While they can be caught a variety of ways, one sure-fire way to hook into a sewer plate drum is to use bait and a still fishing presentation. The ever popular ‘pickerel rig’ and other drop shot style rigs accomplish this task better than most setups especially when wanting to place bait stationary and just slightly off bottom.

“I caught my first ever Master Angler freshwater drum the other day using a pickerel rig baited with pieces of shrimp,” beamed multi-species angler Shu-Mon Mok. Fishing on the Whitemud River near its mouth at Lake Manitoba, Shu-Mon bumped his boat against the reedy shoreline and casted his rig towards the middle of the channel. “Nothing to it really. Cast it out, put rod in holder, then wait for the big one to come to you.”

Light Jigs Tipped with Live Leeches

Early season walleye can be found in typically predictable areas. Good places to start are the first depth transitions coming off of spawning grounds. Other high percentage zones are creek mouths, entrances to bays, and warm water areas in general (relative to the entire body). When searching these places, one of the best presentations to cast out is a light jig tipped with a live leech. Simply cast it out and hop it back with varying pauses in between lift and drops. This setup is versatile enough to be effective fan-casting to cover water quickly while still a slow enough tactic to entice event the most hesitant walleye into biting.

Avid tournament angler Dino D’andreamatteo found cooperative walleyes on Lake of the Prairies on May long weekend in 12 feet of water. “The water temp is still really cold out there and water levels on the reservoir are lower than usual as well. We drifted along contours at various depths until we hit some biting fish. A Big Sky ‘perch baby’ model jig and leeches were the ticket that put some ‘eyes in the boat.”

Sucker Cut-bait on Slip Sinker Rigs

Manitoba has monster channel cats inhabiting our biggest rivers such as the Assiniboine, the Red, the Winnipeg, and even up north on the Bloodvein. Not to mention most of Lake Winnipeg is inhabited by these voracious predator fish as well. While the tactic to catch them is pretty straight-forward, the choice of what bait to put on the hook can often be the difference between having sore arms the next day or lamenting what you did wrong. Pieces of sucker cut-bait is a good way to hook into hungry cold-water cats. Early season cats have sucker meat on the mind as schools of these ‘baitfish’ make their way up tributaries to spawn. As the waters begin to warm up, the fish will start to transition to feeding on hordes of goldeye.

Young avid angler Nick Toker hooked into several Master Angler cats on a recent trip to the channel cat mecca at Lockport. “To be honest my biggest catfish of the day came on a simple night crawler. But our main bait of choice was cut sucker which my dad used to get a couple of giant ones too.”


For more information on the various gamefish species we have in Manitoba, visit our What You’ll Catch page.


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