In Manitoba, there is no better time than the present to start heading out and capitalizing on the amazing shore fishing opportunities found all across the province. During the spring, as the snow and ice begin to melt and flow into the creeks and river systems. They breathe new life into the aquatic ecosystems. The water temperature begins to rise, the frogs start to croak, and many fish species start heading into the shallow waters and streams to begin their yearly spawning routines. As the water warms, many species will quickly spawn out and will be ready to get their feed on! It is these highly aggressive post spawn fish that make The Fairford River and many other Manitoba spring fisheries so famous.
The Fairford River
We recently made our way out to the Fairford River system to kick off our Ultimate Manitoba Shore Fishing Tour. Fairford is located just over 200km’s from Winnipeg’s north perimeter down #6 highway. Upon arrival, you will see the Fairford River Water Control Structure. This structure controls the outflow from Lake Manitoba during times of high or low water. During the spring and throughout the summer, outflow from lake Manitoba can be very high. This sends strong current through the control structure. This current concentrates the entire food chain throughout this stretch of river, bringing with it some of the most diverse multi-species shore fishing action in the province.
The Perfect Storm for Shore Fishing
As we pulled up to the river, we crossed the control structure and set-up along the north bank. This just a handful of meters from #6 highway. Before even wetting a line, we could tell things were going to be good. As we scanned the river our eyes locked on the hundreds of carp surfacing in all directions and the countless gulls, terns, and pelicans all focused around the control dam. It was clear that every member of this aquatic food chain was around and we couldn’t wait to see what would bite our lure first.
My very first cast into the river, my swimbait got slammed, then slammed again, then finally hit a third time and I was able to get a hook into the fish. The mystery of what species this could be, was quickly solved as the unmistakable pull of a freshwater drum was apparent. After a highly entertaining battle I was able to land the drum and send it back on its way.
Marcel and I looked at each other and it was at that moment we realize this was going to be a very special day of drum fishing. After dozens of Freshwater drum landed, on nearly every cast, Marcel and I both set some goals for the day of shore fishing. My goal, to catch a Master Angler sized drum, Marcel’s goal, to finesse one of the many carp to actually bite his lure, despite not having a proper carp rig.
Master Angler Drum
First to reach their goal was me. In front of us was multiple eddies in the water. It didn’t take to understand the fish were stacked here. After throwing my swimbait into this eddy and sifting through many drum, I finally got the bite I was hoping for. I immediately knew this bite was different from the others. As soon as I set the hook, the drum did a drag peeling run into the depths of the river. Using every square inch of its body to harness the power of the river, the battle with this fish began. (They don’t call them barndoors for nothing!) After finally gaining on the fish I was able to get a few glimpses as to what I had hooked. Right away I knew this was the one I was hoping for.
Once I was finally able to land this fish in the net, I quickly unhooked it while still keeping it in the water. Upon arrival, prior to starting fishing, I set up the bump board and release tools right beside me. Being well prepared ensures the best fish handling while unhooking and measuring, when the time comes. Marcel came over with his phone, I quickly grabbed the drum from the water and placed it on the bump board for a measurement photo. Then in one motion, held it up for an action shot and sent it back into the river.
It’s very vital to keep fish first practices in your mind at all times no matter the size or species of the fish. In this situation we got all our photos done with the fish being out of water for a mere 15 seconds. All said and done this drum was 26” surpassing the 25” minimum for a Manitoba Master Angler Program.
Carp on a Swimbait!?
Next to accomplish their goal was Marcel. Marcel tried a few different tactics to target carp. Being that we didn’t anticipate getting on carp to this magnitude. We didn’t have the proper tackle for carp and had to make do with what we had. Firstly, Marcel rigged up a pickerel rig with smaller hooks and small chunks of minnows. This method sounded like his best bet to hook into a carp, however all he was catching with it was small pike. After admitting defeat with the pickerel rig, Marcel began slow retrieving a swimbait through the schools of carp. Every cast Marcel could feel that the swimbait was constantly being tugged at by the carp. It was only a matter of time until one actually swallows it.
Finally, while retrieving right through the school, Marcel feels a solid tug on the line, followed by a drag peeling run. He knew right away this was the carp fight he was after. After a brief but intense fight Marcel was able to land this fish in his net. A quick measurement reviled that it was just shy of the 30” master angler requirement at 29.5”.
Fish after Fish
We continued shore fishing for the rest of the afternoon until our arms were actually sore from fighting so many fish. (not complaining!) As we packed up our gear and prepared to return to our campsite at Lundar Beach, we couldn’t help but think what a special shore fishing location the Fairford River really is. Any time of the summer, any angler has a legitimate chance at catching a pile of different species. Not only that, but they also have a legitimate chance at catching Master Angler size fish of each! We truly had a blast on the shores that day and I sense a return visit soon!
There are a number of awesome options for accommodations near Fairford. On this trip we chose the centralized location of Lundar Beach Provincial Park. This gave us a perfect hub to hit up a number of Interlake fisheries. Also, in the area there are a number of other options to book a room or campsite.This including the Roviera Campground right in Fairford, Steeprock Campground, Watchorn Beach Provincial Park and The Narrows Sunset Lodge just to name a few.
Rod & Reel:
The entire time fishing Marcel and I both stuck with a basic 6’6” medium action spinning rod and reel set-ups. This was more than enough rod to handle each fish we hooked into. However, if I was specifically heading to Fairford to target carp, I would recommend beefing up that set-up, just in case a 30 or even 40-pound trophy carp takes your lure.
Paired with our 6’6” medium action spinning set up. Marcel and I had 10-pound braid tied to about a 4-6-foot 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. Despite the high current, the water clarity was actually still pretty good. This is one of the reasons we chose to go with the fluoro leader.
For tackle we used almost exclusively ½ ounce jigs (specifically flasher jigs). With the exception of some pickerel rig fishing. Although the p-rig would have been every bit as successful as the jig. We ran into a few snag issues with it. Doubled that with the continual rebaiting of the hooks and this method seemed unnecessary when the jig and swimbait bite was so hot. The ½ ounce jigs on this day were definitely heavy enough to make it to the bottom in the current. However, on days of stronger or weaker current you may want to play around with jig weight to find that perfect balance.
For the majority of the day Marcel and I were throwing 3-3.5” swimbaits on our flasher jigs. For the bite on this day, that was definitely the most efficient bait of choice. Nearly every cast yielded a bite, in many cases multiple bites. The durability of the plastics was great and gave us many second chances that a salted minnow may not have. However, there will be some days out there where the bite isn’t as insane as we experienced. For those days, keeping a few tubs of salted minnows on hand could be the key to get the more finicky fish to bite. An excellent option for minnows in the area is Nate’s Baits based right out of Fairford. While on location Marcel and I were able to grab a couple fresh tubs off of Nate, which worked great!
The technique that worked best for us would be to eye up an eddy in the current and cast our swimbait into them. These eddies stack up with baitfish and conversely stack up with many other species feeding on them. As our jig and swimbaits entered the eddy. We would let it sink down for a few seconds prior to starting our retrieve. The bottom of the river is filled with many snag hazards like boulders. So, on the retrieve we kept our rod tip up, then slowly hopped the lure back in the bottom two feet of water. On many of the casts that we never hooked into a fish, we would get a multitude of bites throughout our retrieve. Once reeled in, we would make sure our swimbait plastic was positioned properly on the jig before re-casting. This ensured a natural presentation under the water.
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