I was born on Christmas, I love 4th of July at the lake, and I continually marvel at how Halloween excites me for different reasons as I age (candy as a kid, co-ed costume parties in my 20s, and the wide-eyed excitement of my son now that I’m older). But really, is there any holiday on the planet more thrilling than fishing opener?
The words themselves immediately invoke thoughts of big fish, new adventures and unrealized potential. Fishing opener!
My home state, Minnesota, has long embraced its fishing opener with great fanfare and more than a little irony as the opener is tied to Mother’s Day weekend. Why must the fish bite so good on a day that demands we set aside our fishing rods (at least by late afternoon) to celebrate indoors with family?
Fishing opener is much more than just the day, or the weekend, of course. For me, much of its appeal is the promise of future discovery throughout the season, as I love trying at least one or two new trips each year – targeting a new species, trying my hand at fly-fishing, doing a bucket-list road trip to a fishery I’ve always wanted to experience.
This summer, I’m taking my dad to Manitoba on just such an adventure. We’ll do a combo trip, experiencing fly-in fishing at legendary Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge (photo above) some 90 minutes north of Winnipeg, then tacking on a day or two afterward to tangle with giant channel cats on the Red River or doing a multi-species day at Whiteshell Provincial Park in the southeast corner of the province.
As I’ve been researching options, I noticed Manitoba’s opener coincides with Minnesota’s, occurring on May 13. As my family can attest, I love planning trips, researching details and putting together detailed itineraries and spreadsheets for fishing vacations. It’s part of the fun!
So, to embrace the spirit of my very favorite holiday – fishing opener – here are some trip ideas I’ve investigated for a variety of species for opening weekend or early season angling adventures in Manitoba. We’ve all had those Christmases where we celebrate in two places 2 days in a row to accommodate in-laws or traveling relatives . . . maybe this year I’ll double up on fishing opener!
EARLY SEASON MANITOBA HOTSPOTS BY SPECIES
Lake of the Prairies – Walleye
Early season walleye fishing doesn’t get much better than at this huge reservoir in the Parkland Region. The ’eyes on this lake school up big time and can be located throughout the entire 56km stretch of water. A wide range of size classes can be readily caught from juvenile eaters to Master Angler sized hawgs and everything else in between. Leeches are the bait of choice, but a variety of artificials and lures will also get the job done here.
Patterson Lake – Brown Trout/Rainbow Trout
Master Angler hunters for browns or rainbows need go no further than this stocked trout lake in the spring. These fish are accessible on open water quite literally as soon as most of the ice cover has melted away. No natural bait can be used here, but cast out an in-line spinner or go with a fly rod and indicator and get ready for a fight.
Falcon Lake – Smallmouth Bass
Opening week can be phenomenal for early season tank smallmouth fishing on Falcon. The bass will generally be in their pre-spawn stage, so anglers should target specific depths and areas where they will most likely be at this time of year. Master Angler smallies over 20” (4 lbs) are weighed in every year at the annual opening day bass tournament held on this lake.
Lac Du Bonnet (Winnipeg River) – Northern Pike
Whether you are looking for tons of hookups or hunting for that one monster, Lac Du Bonnet or anywhere along the Winnipeg River system has plenty of prime areas to hit for awesome spring pike action. Back bays, creek mouths, and shallow flats abound here where tossing a spoon or bucktail will entice a violent strike from these toothy predators. Or wait one out with a big game float/frozen bait combo for a shot at a northern of a lifetime.
Red River – Channel Catfish
Opening day water levels can vary from year to year, but our world-renowned Manitoba cats are always raring to go regardless by the time most anglers are able to wet a line. On boat or from shore, soaking some cut bait can result in hooking up with a trophy channel catfish at any given moment.
Riverton (Icelandic River) – White Bass
All tributaries, big or small, that directly feed into the south basin of Lake Winnipeg such as the Icelandic River at Riverton, will have a population of white bass migrating into it to spawn at this time of year. These feisty slabs school up by the thousands during this short window in the spring and can be caught using almost any freshwater presentation you can think of.
PEMBINA VALLEY CENTRAL PLAINS REGION:
Whitemud River – Freshwater Drum
One of the best times to hammer a Master Angler sized drum on the Whitemud, is during opening week. Famed for huge numbers and enormous sizes of these underappreciated bruisers, this river that feeds directly into Lake Manitoba can be phenomenal for arm breaking action on rod and reel.
Portage Spillway – Goldeye/Rock Bass
The Assiniboine River below the Portage Spillway is fantastic fishing for multiple species throughout the open water season. Opening week can be easy pickings for schools of goldeye in the fast water using a float and worm combo. This is also a place where you can specifically target rock bass and actually catch some. Focus on shoreline pockets and back eddies with panfish tackle and plastic grubs.
Oak Lake – Walleye/Perch
The largest fishable body of water in this region, Oak Lake boasts phenomenal numbers of eater-sized walleye that can be readily caught throughout the lake. Perch are also plentiful with Master Angler sized footballs not uncommon. A full-service marina makes it an easy go for the first trip of the season with the boat.
Pelican Lake – Walleye/Northern Pike
A great lake to hit opening week is this gem in the Western Region of the province. Great numbers of average sized walleye and plenty of pike will keep you active and is sure to satisfy an angler’s need to get something on the line after a long winter of waiting. Focus on shallower water at this time of year and you are a good bet to strike gold.
MASTER ANGLER FISH TRACKER
Want to see how many Master Angler walleye a certain lake produced before you book your trip? Or check out the biggest pike caught in a region last year so you know what record you need to beat? Or, how do I put this gently … need to call BS on your buddy who said he caught a Manitoba-record last year? You can search by angler, species or body of water on the Master Anglers Records page here.