Fog, fishing flurries highlight a day of winter walleye paradise on Lake Winnipeg – Grand Forks Herald

Fog, fishing flurries highlight a day of winter walleye paradise on Lake Winnipeg – Grand Forks Herald

ON LAKE WINNIPEG, Manitoba – We had barely finished setting up, and I didn’t even have a line in the water yet, when Jim Stinson hooked on the type of fish that draws anglers to Lake Winnipeg in droves every winter.

And there it was – just like that – 26½ inches of beautiful Lake Winnipeg green, those finned balls known for their iridescent bluish-green backs unique to the massive Lake Manitoba, picking up where the Red River ends on its journey north to Hudson Bay.

After a few quick shots, Stinson sent the walleye into the depths.

Now that’s the way to start your fishing day.

It was Saturday morning, February 3, and I finally made the trip north to join Stinson for a day on the ice on Lake Winnipeg. Stinson, a retired RCMP officer from East Selkirk, Manitoba, has been making two trips a week to Big Lake since mid-January.

The fishing has been good.

Stinson and I have known each other for more than two decades, and have fished together many times over the years, including a trip last June to a prairie lake in western Manitoba that provided some of the best fishing I’ve ever done. All summer long.

Most winters, Stinson uses a snowmobile to get to his favorite fishing spots on Lake Winnipeg, but this year’s strange winter, with warm temperatures and little snow, allowed him to drive around in the snow with the truck without having to worry about getting stuck.

Since there are no maintained ice roads on Lake Winnipeg—not where we fished anyway—Stinson followed a set of well-traveled trails from shore to where we set up north of Balsam Bay on the southeast shore of the big lake. GPS tracks from previous trips to the fishing spot allowed him to navigate around huge areas of rough, jagged ice and some pressure ridges.

By drilling five holes in a straight line, we were set up at Stinson’s pivot house and fishing over 26 inches of ice in 19 feet of water just before 8:30 a.m.

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Vehicles and anglers spread across the ice on Saturday, February 3, 2024, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

Brad Duquesne/Grand Forks Herald

Starting early was crucial this winter, Stinson says, because there was a “little window” in the morning, followed by a lull in the middle of the day and then another wave later in the afternoon.

This day followed a similar pattern.

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Jim Stinson’s Humminbird Mega Live forward-facing sonar setup clearly showed four fishing lines and an occasional walleye swam to the horizon Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, on Lake Winnipeg. Fishing was steady in the morning and afternoon, with a lull in the middle of the day. Stinson installed the amazing piece of electronics on a custom metal box manufactured by ArcLab Motor Sports in Winnipeg.

Brad Duquesne/Grand Forks Herald

Like many anglers these days, Stinson jumped on the forward-facing sonar bandwagon, purchasing a Humminbird Mega Live unit last summer. The amazing piece of electronics gives him a view of the underwater world that would have been difficult to comprehend many years ago.

The unit clearly showed all four of our lines, and even the swivel barrels that Stinson had attached to his lines a foot above the jigs to prevent line twist were clearly visible. When the fish sailed, it was clear, belly to bottom. Other times, huge schools of baitfish swimming just below the ice would light up the top of the screen.

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A large school of baitfish swim across the top of the Humminbird Mega Live display just below the ice surface on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, on Lake Winnipeg. The unit even showed the barrel rotating on two fishing lines, as seen near the bottom right of the screen.

Brad Duquesne/Grand Forks Herald

I started the morning with my Humminbird Helix 5—an efficient but fairly primitive piece of electronics by comparison—but found myself spending more time staring at my lines on Stinson’s Mega Live screen. I quickly turned off my electronics and pulled the power adapter out of the water.

For whatever reason, most of the walleye cruising along the lake bottom were moving from right to left on Stinson’s screen. This gave him the first opportunity to attack the walleye, and he made the most of the opportunity.

That’s my excuse for being ignored, at least, and I’m sticking to it.

Lake Winnipeg has a well-deserved reputation for producing walleye – the province’s popular “Master Angler” program database indicates that approximately 7,400 walleye meeting the minimum 28-inch requirement have come from Lake Winnipeg over the years – But most of the fish landed during the morning wave were the “nice” variety.

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Cain Furstenau, 10, of Cavalier, North Dakota, landed and released this 31-inch walleye on Sunday, February 4, 2024, while fishing Foggy Lake Winnipeg. The walleye has a girth of 18.6 inches, so using the girth formula to estimate the walleye’s weight (length x g x g / 750), the walleye weighed an estimated 14.3 pounds.

Contributed by Roger Furstenau

Manitoba regulations, which came into effect in April 2023, require anglers to release all walleye 55 centimeters — about 21.6 inches — and larger. Previously, anglers could keep a walleye longer than 70 centimeters — or 27.5 inches — annually on Lake Winnipeg.

That regulation was tough to swallow for 10-year-old Ken Furstenau of Cavalier, North Dakota, who landed a giant walleye on Sunday, February 4, on Lake Winnipeg that measured 31 inches and had a girth of 18.6 inches. Using the walleye weight estimation formula – length x girth x girth / 750 – the weight of Furstenau’s large walleye was estimated at 14.3 pounds.

“He had a hard time accepting the new regulation on releasing this 31-inch fish,” said Cain’s grandfather, Roger Furstenau of Cavalier, who shared a photo of his grandson’s Lake Winnipeg giant.

After our fast start in the morning, the midday lull came right on schedule, and the occasional fish moving through Stinson’s Mega Live showed little interest in biting. The action resumed again later in the afternoon, and by the time we got our lines back and dialed in the next day just after 5pm, we had reached our walleye limit of four and released a few more that were too big to keep .

Stinson’s hot lure was a pink and white Northland Buckshot Rattle spoon tipped with a minnow head, while I had the best luck with a 3/16-ounce silver “dinner bell” spoon, also tipped with a minnow head.

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Jim Stinson of East Selkirk, Manitoba, lands a 25-inch walleye on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024, on Lake Winnipeg.

Brad Duquesne/Grand Forks Herald

The 26-inch Stinson caught to start the day was the largest of the trip, but he also topped 25 inches. We probably caught 15 walleyes total and missed or missed a few others.

The morning was cloudy and foggy, and visibility was good when we hit the ice, but thick fog settled in later in the day. By the time we loaded Stinson’s truck for the 3.7 mile drive back to shore, visibility was no more than a few feet.

There were some precarious moments trying to find the trail around the wide stretches of jagged ice, but Stinson’s GPS quickly got us back on track and we made it to shore without incident before dark.

The way this winter has been is the mark of a successful trip in any way you can measure it.

Whew.

The original plan was to fish Sunday as well, but in a fit of common sense, we decided to heed the heavy fog warnings and spend the morning enjoying coffee and conversation instead before I hit the road back to Grand Forks.

In hindsight, it still seems like the right choice.

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