Winters in Manitoba are cold – minus 35 C isn’t uncommon. But that doesn’t stop fishermen from enjoying Manitoba’s world class sport fisheries.
After the ice is thick enough on the lakes and rivers, you begin to see permanent ice fishing shacks dotting the ice. Some of the favourite places to fish include the Red River and Lake Winnipeg. The ice off Matlock is particularly popular with fishermen.
When the ice is thick enough, you drive onto the ice, either in a truck or SnoBear, towing your shack. If you don’t own a shack, one can be rented from an outfitter. Most fishermen drive out as far as they can, usually as far as a pressure ridge that forms some way off shore. A pressure ridge is where two large formations of ice but up against one another – they can be very dangerous. You have to be careful in crossing the pressure ridges – they shift or drift apart and vehicles have been known to fall into them. When you find a good spot on the ice, you drill a hole in the ice, either on the open lake or in your ice shack and settle in for a season of fishing. Your shack makes a cozy retreat if conditions get too frigid out on the lake.
The Greenback Walleye – A Spectacular Trophy Fish
Lake Winnipeg is home to the Greenback, as they call them here. The reason is because of the incredible iridescent green coloration that runs down the entire length of the Greenback Walleye’s back and sides. There are no other fisheries in North America that produce such spectacularly coloured fish. In the Fall, thousands of these fish descend on the Red River and Lake Winnipeg in search of their favourite meal, the Emerald Shinner Minnow. Great fishing continues through the fall and all during the winter.
Of course, spring must come – this year it was a bit early. The ice was getting soft on the Red River as early as late February and fisherman were required to get their shacks off the river by March first. On Lake Winnipeg, the deadline is usually March 31 – it takes a bit longer for ice to melt on a large body of water.
The ice begins to melt first along the lake shore, making getting on and off the ice treacherous. You can see puddles of lake water pooling on top of the ice everywhere. When we went up to Matlock, it was a warm day of about 10 degrees C – balmy indeed, but a warning of warmer temperatures to come. Some folks were still squeezing the last days out of the fishing season, but others seemed not willing to take the chance of having the ice break up on the lake before they could drive out to tow their fishing shack off the ice.
The air was thick with the roar of SnoBears pulling shacks off the ice. At one point, a long line of trucks and SnoBears stretched out across one of the access points as people waited their turn to pull off the ice. Others parked their vehicles near the shore as they readied their shacks and equipment to leave. But there were still dozens of shacks out on the lake as far as the eye could see.