Northern Manitoba a Thirty Year Tradition
As an international hunting and fishing consultant, I tend to hold my favorite hunting and fishing destinations pretty tight. However, I really want to share some of the knowledge I have gained while fishing the lakes around Flin Flon, Manitoba over the last three decades. My hope is that those of you that are searching for an adventure that is not only affordable but is also exciting can be motivated to go explore! In the post I will cover three important topics; my favorite lakes in the region, the species I fish for and my top three lures for each species, and finally where to stay.
My Favorite Lakes
The Cranberry Lakes
The Cranberries consist of three lakes aptly named First Cranberry, Second Cranberry, and Third Cranberry. That being said you can start out on First Cranberry and still fish five unique fisheries without ever having to take your boat out of the water. In addition to the the Cranberries, you have access to the monster pike producing Simonhouse Lake, and the walleye factory Elbow Lake.
My personal experience has been fishing the First and Second Cranberry lakes. First Cranberry is 4.5 miles long and about 2-miles wide. In my opinion this is your best chance at a Manitoba Master Angler walleye on this chain. They won’t come easy! The lake has several islands, points, mud flats, and rock piles that will all produce on any given day. The key on First Cranberry is to keep moving. You may want to pull bottom bouncers with spinners, find the fish and then toss jigs. Be ready because the occasional lake trout will hit your walleye gear and the fight is on!
Second Cranberry is cold, deep, and the perfect habitat for lake trout. Again, focus on points and Islands. Spring and fall are peak times to fish for lakers. During the heat of summer some giant trout can still be caught with jigs tipped with bait right on the bottom.
Second Cranberry is also where you find the narrows that lead to Simonhouse Lake. The narrows is great walleye fishing all the way into Simonhouse Lake.
This lake is where it all began! Athapap, as the locals call it, is one of the most productive, drive-in, trophy fisheries in all of Canada. Topping most anglers lists are the plus-sized northern pike, lake trout, and walleyes. Do I fish Athapap everyday? Nope, I save it for calmer weather when I get get to my favorite fishing locations. This is also the lake that I am not too proud to hire a guide to fish.
The map shared here focuses on the portion of the lake reached from the public landing at Baker’s Narrows. From Baker’s Narrows you can head southwest following the shoreline until you reach Pickarel Bay. The season in the bay stays closed until the very end of May or early June. This is because huge female walleyes come to spawn here and they are followed by the jumbo pike! If you hit it right you will catch some great fish in this bay. Another area I like to chase trophy pike is Schist Lake. You can see the lake on the map. It is long and skinny with countless bays and huge reed beds. Twenty pound plus pike are caught fairly often in this lake.
You need to get out around any of the big islands or points, find fifty to one hundred feet of water, turn on the graph and look for lakers. Once you find them, start jigging with the jig I highlight below. Don’t be shocked if you hook into a thirty pounder! Remember Athapap held the World Record Laker Title for years!
Loucks & Iskwasum
Normally my fishing party stays at Viking Lodge which is in Cranberry Portage. Loucks and Iskwasum are about 70 miles away. These lakes are a walleye anglers dream. They are loaded with fish and easy to read structure. Points, islands, rock piles, and rivers are all good bets. Jigs tipped with ½ of a crawler is my favorite method on these lakes. Jig’s and frozen minnows are a close second. When fishing gets slow I like to troll crankbaits or hit the bay for pike. That’s right, there are some giant pike living in these two lakes.
Although I have never had the opportunity to fish Louck’s in the fall, the locals tell me it is a fantastic time for big walleyes.
Access to these lakes is just off Provincial Highway 39. There is an improved landing with plenty of parking. Take the channel West to go to Iskwasum or East to Loucks.
Pack a lunch and spend the day, these lakes won’t disappoint!
Twin Lake is located just about a mile up the Kississing Road. Twin is one of those lakes that nearly everyone passes by not knowing the lake has an excellent population of walleyes, northerns and even some lake trout. There is a small landing with a few parking spots. I have only seen one other boat at the launch!
For me, Twin is perfect for bad weather days or days when I just want to be alone and fish out of my kayak. I like to take the yak, follow the shoreline and cast paddle tails or gulp twister tails.
Some of the largest pike I had ever caught out of a kayak came out of Twin. Recently I broke my old record this year on Lake Athapap! Twin is a sleeper pike lake; it’s deep, cold, and full of forage fish.
Jenny lake is located about fifteen miles up the Kississing Road. The Kississing Road is the main thoroughfare that heads North to Kississing Lake. In the past three years I have not run into another angler on Jenny Lake, although I do see quite a few trucks and boats driving past.
The secret is that there is no improved boat access on the lake. I recommend bringing a canoe or a couple kayaks with you so you can enjoy this hardly fished lake.
Whats so great about Jenny? Walleyes!! Lot’s and lots of walleyes. Don’t plan on catching huge walleyes, but 1.5 to 4-pound fish will bite all day. In addition to the fantastic walleye fishing there are lots of Northern pike; no monsters but plenty of action.
Locals call them pickerel but most Americans call them walleyes. Call them what you want; I call them the bread and butter fish of the North. When the bite is on you can catch 50-100 walleyes per day. The walleyes here take on a golden color on their sides with a dark almost black back.
Many of the walleyes you will catch will be in the 1lbs to 2.5lbs range. A couple of the lakes I have highlighted consistently produce trophy walleyes that make the Manitoba Master Angler Award minimum. My two favorite lakes for trophy walleyes are Lake Athapap and First Cranberry. For high numbers of fish, I like Loucks and Iskwasum. There are two portage lakes available if you are a guest at Viking Lodge LOADED with nice sized walleyes. Every year I do a day trip on one of these lakes and you can expect to catch 100 plus fish per boat! This compares to some of the best fly-in lakes for a fraction of the cost.
My favorite way to fish walleyes is to start with a 1-ounce bottom bouncer with a spinner. I use a single hooked spinner with half a crawler. Once I find fish, I like to switch to jig and crawler or jig and minnow. Early in the year, I find tossing artificials like the ones listed to be very effective. Walleyes are chasing baitfish in 2 to 7 feet of water and just hammer the listed baits.
Sometimes I will troll or cast crankbaits. I believe this is much tougher on the fish as these types of lures often have multiple treble hooks. I prefer a single hook.
The last thing I say about walleye fishing in the area is to definitely keep some for shore lunch! You will never reproduce this at home! My guys insist on eating fresh walleye every day. Other than that we practice 100% catch and release.
Berkley Ripple Shad
Berkley’s Ripple Shad, which features Powerbait, maybe my favorite artificial lure for walleyes in Northern Manitoba. I like to fish the 3-inch with a ¼ leadhead. Two of the most productive colors I use are orange pearl and fire perch.
Not only are these baits incredibly productive, but they are also tough and will last a long time. I suggest using a fluorocarbon or titanium leader as the northern pike like these as much as the walleyes.
GULP Swimming Mullet
Originally these little jewels were my go-to bait for sea trout off the coast of Florida. It just so happened I had several bags of them in my pack when I headed to Northern Manitoba. I tied one on one day and the walleyes loved them. I fish these slow and the tail still gives good action.
Gulp Mullet work well for both vertically jigging or casting and bringing back to the boat with a slow retrieve or bouncing the bottom. My go-to is chartreuse, orange, and black. The smallies love these as well.
I have a love-hate relationship with bottom bouncers, however, it is my go-to presentation when the fish are scattered. After I find them, I prefer to switch over to a jig or soft-plastic bait. Finesse fishing and feeling the bite is more my style.
My bottom bouncer of choice is the Rock-Runner by Northland Fishing Tackle. I prefer to backtroll at under 1.4 MPH. For most spring presentations I am fishing 7-14 feet of water and find a one ounce bottom bouncer to be perfect.
I use spinners with three to four foot leaders. I used to use all fluorocarbon leaders, but after losing countless rigs to pike, I switched to steel leader material. These are more expensive but last a long time. If you can find them go with red and white blades.
Over thirty years ago I was fishing on Lake Athapap with a local guide named Joe Caribou. Mr. Caribou asked what we wanted to fish for and we told him we were after lake trout. So far we had struck out on lakers. We did not drive over a thousand miles to not land any lakers.
Joe fired up the boat and navigated around islands, points, and rock piles until finally he just stopped. He handed us bucktail jigs and told us to tie them on. Once they were tied Joe tested each knot and tipped the jig with sucker meat. We caught trout after trout!
I still use that technique today. There are several brands of bucktail jigs; white is a popular color, or try chartreuse, lime blue, or even some with flash tied in them. Make sure you tip them with sucker belly meat. Here are two really good tips for catching lakers on jigs: First, fish right on the bottom. (The hit will be subtle, but don’t hesitate as lakers will spit the bait if they feel the hook). Second, try chumming; use old minnows sucker scales, or anything to get the trout to go into a feeding frenzy!
I almost hate to share this lure. Why? It is deadly on big lake trout! I have not seen one other angler use the Yakima T-55 Flatfish on the lakes we fish in Manitoba.
Two methods have been very effective for our fishing party. Running the T-55 behind a downrigger is very effective but requires extra gear. Trolling with banana weights is my preferred method. They are cheap and simple. Run a good twenty-pound fluorocarbon leader and the lure will retain perfect action. I am not going to give you my colors, you need to experiment to see which work best for you.
I suggest letting the flatfish hammer the bottom. Often big lakers are staged on big mud or sand flats. As that lure keeps hitting the bottom it draws on curious trout who will follow for several hundred feet before striking. I learned this on a trip a few years back where we had a camera on the line.
White Tube Jigs
Tube jigs are used for lake trout fishing from Colorado to Nunavat! They are used through the ice and on open water. Many anglers tip then with bait while others swear that you don’t need bait.
Personally, I like tube jigs when the fish are active. You can fish them slow, fast, and in any depth range. The go-to color is white or pearl. Don’t be afraid to experiment as I have seen lakers crush other colors as well.
Here a tip for you as you get ready to place your order for tube jigs: I recommend staying away from the salted type tubes. Get tubes from three to five inches and use leadheads that get you to the bottom quickly.
It sure would be hard to find a more aggressive fish in freshwater. The locals call them jacks, but I like their scientific name of Esox lucius because it just sounds meaner and tougher. Pike will hit just about anything. I like to use big baits to limit the number of small ones I hook.
To hear the old guides and lodge owners talk, the Americans came and caught these monsters by the cooler full. It didn’t take long before the big pike numbers were down to just an occasional monster being caught. Lucky for us the Province of Manitoba pulled back the reins and put much needed policies in effect and the big pike are doing much better. I think the pike fishing now is as good or better than when I went on my first trip over thirty years ago.
Nearly every lake will produce pike in the region. If you want to catch big pike, stick to big bodies of water like Athapap, and Simonhouse. If you want to hunt trophy pike for a day, hire a local, professional guide and you won’t regret it.
Savage Gear Hard Eel
I have to be honest here and give credit where credit is due… In 2017 I decided I was going to hire a guide for just one day to fish Lake Athapap. I started doing my research and found a local they call the “Baker.” One evening I called him and we talked big pike and big trout. I liked what I heard so I friended the “Baker” on facebook and soon found myself in awe of his ability to consistently put his clients on big fish. When I asked how he did it his response was, “Savage Gear.”
I had seen Savage Gear lures but they looked like gimmicks that would fall apart to me. Rat’s, snakes, ducks, eels…I wasn’t going to spend $20.00 on one lure, until I tried them with the “Baker”. These lures are simply awesome.
If you can find them, buy the 10-inch, 4oz, hard eel. Walleye color and firetiger are must have baits. Fish them slow. Don’t expect to catch a bunch of little fish, but be ready because at any moment you could hook the fish of a lifetime!
Mepp’s # 5 Bucktail Spinners
Long before I existed (1938), an engineer from France named Andre Meulnart invented the Mepp’s Spinner. After WWII a man in Wisconsin was given a Mepps Spinner by a GI named Frank Velek. He began bringing the Mepps Spinner into the USA and the rest is history!
Mepp’s Spinners will catch all sorts of species of fish, but northern pike can’t seem to resist that blade and real squirrel tail! I tend to fish with a size number 5 or bigger. I even bring some of the musky-sized Mepps. For me, Mepp’s work best when the fish are in one to ten feet of water. A slow steady retrieve works best.
The Mepp’s is the original, but don’t hesitate to throw the Northland Bird-Shot Spinner. Pike go crazy for that rattle. Also, I find vibrex to be very effective. No matter which one you throw you are bound to get lots of pike action with inline spinners.
The Dardevle story intrigues me! It seems in 1906 Loe Eppinger journeyed into the wilderness of Ontario Canada. He used a lure of his own design to catch countless fish. When tossed into the shallow the lure would move side to side nearly turning over, but always righting itself. Lou decided it looked and acted like a Dardevle. In 1912 Lou named the lure The Osprey. In 1918 the name was changed to Dardevle. The company is still family-owned and operated.
Since then the company has sold thousands of lures and thousands of fish have been caught on them. There are so many colors and sizes to choose from it can be overwhelming. My suggestion is to pick up several one-ounce Dardevle’s in the famous five of diamonds, red and white, and bright colors.
Dardevles are very versatile. Many anglers motor from bay to bay and fan cast with them. Others like to troll them along the shorelines. It doesn’t matter how you fish them because you are going to catch pike! Remember good steel, titanium, or heavy fluorocarbon leaders are a must.
Pound for pound I think smallies are the best fishing fish in North America. They will attack a variety of baits including topwaters.
Most people that travel to this region of Northern Manitoba don’t think about smallmouth bass. They are really missing out! Two of my best smallmouth fishing days have taken place on lakes in the area.
If you are looking for a place to bring your boat and are staying in the Cranberry Portage or Flin Flon area, you will need to head South to famed Rocky Lake. Rocky is well known for producing monster bronzebacks! If you want to spend your day all alone fishing out of your canoe or kayak, you have to check out the rarely fished Pothook Lake. Pothook is located about fifteen minutes North on the Kississing Road. For the Manitoba smallmouth lakes I stick mainly to the three lures pictured below. From left to right, the Rebel Pop-R, Vibrax # 3, and the Bass Assassin Shad.
Places to Stay
Viking Lodge, Cranberry Portage.
Viking Lodge may be older then me and I just hit the half century mark. It shows its age but makes up for it with one of the hardest working, friendliest staffs you will ever find. This is a family owned and operated business. They have a store for lures and bait and I suggest trying one of their pizzas!
Bakers Narrows Lodge, Bakers Narrows, Lake Athapapaskow
If you plan on doing all guided fishing, or want to do a full American plan package, this might be your best option. The resorts log cabins are spaced well and give good privacy. They also offer daily fly out trips. If you have a large corporate group you may want to consider Bakers Narrows. Like Viking Lodge, I have stayed here many times and enjoyed everyone.
If you are you a full on DIY type of person, this is the place. I have truly enjoyed myself at this camp. I have stayed here for a week, and also just to add a few days on to a resort trip. Either way this is a clean, beautiful campground. Make reservations early and you can stay right next to the lake.
If you are wanting to speak with me about this or any other Worldwide hunting or fishing adventure you can reach me at 406-580-4036 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.