Trout fishing in Manitoba
Contrary to a lot of beliefs there is some quality trout fishing in my home province of Manitoba. True we don’t have streams that cascade through the mountains, flowing clear water with the scenery to match but we do have unmatched Stillwater fisheries. The average growth rate of the trout stocked in these waters is 2 ½ pounds per year. In all my years of fishing I have not found another area that can claim this fact. We have visitors from Utah, North and South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Minnesota, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario to fish our lakes located on the west side of Manitoba all in the pursuit of catching a trophy size trout. The available species are Rainbows, Brown, Brook, Tigers (a cross between Brown and Brook trout), and Splake (a cross between Lake trout and Brook trout).
Tactics for Trout in Stillwater:
The first and foremost thought that has to go into the progression of Stillwater fly fishing is water temperature. In our northern latitudes we have ice on the lakes for 4-6 months of the year and as a result the water temperature usually is maintained at 39.2 degrees F in the depths of the lakes. During spring the ice softens and the heat and wind will break the ice and most anglers can’t wait to hit open water. Rule of thumb is to wait for the surface temperature to hit 39.2. When this happens all the water is the same temperature and the winds will mix it and create what most of the fishermen call spring turn over. The next step when going out to fish during this condition is to look for water that is a little bit warmer than the main body of the lake. Most times this will be in the shallows, close to shore where the sun has managed to warm the area. Trout at times will be in such shallow water that their dorsal fins will be protruding from the water. The preferred water temperatures of the trout species are Rainbows 63 degrees F, Browns 65, Brookies 57, Splake 54, and Tigers 64.
When fishing spring time conditions you also have to think about what prey is active during this period. One of the first insects to start moving is backswimmers and his close cousin the water boatman. Casting one of these imitations close to shore and in inches of water can entice the trout who cruise the shallows looking for an easy meal. With the water warming constantly the fish will become more active as well as their prey. During June all types of aquatic insects are moving and getting ready for hatching. Mayflies, Caddis flies, Midges, Dragons and Damsels are all stirring and are accessible to the trout. It takes a trained eye to decipher what the fish are feeding on and then present the fly in a natural manner.
The midge fishing in the summer is to die for. There are times when I have witnessed the midges hatching so thick it looks like a column of smoke coming from the lake. Presenting a midge pupa at the proper depth is critical in catching feeding trout and a strike indicator is a must for some anglers. With a strike indicator the angler can fish the midge at the desired depth and also tell when the trout’s delicate take happens thus setting the hook into another monster trout. A basic rule in midge fishing is to fish with a leader that is approximately 20 to 25% longer than the depth of water you fish, i.e. If you are fishing 10 ft. of water you would require a leader 12 ½ long.
Freshwater Shrimp is another insect that is taken readily, in fact they are the reason why Manitoba trout attain the weight they do. I have seen a few trout with their stomach disgorged, 2-3 times the actual size, and crammed full of Freshwater Shrimp. Having an olive imitation of a Gamarras shrimp in size 10-14 will really work wonders on the lakes. Another thought in fishing an imitation of a shrimp is to have a spot of orange dubbing in the middle of the fly to represent the egg sack on a female shrimp. Sometimes this orange dot can make or break a fishing trip.
During the fall period, from September to the end of October, predacious diving beetles will start their autumn ritual and land on the water with a splat. These are the larger cousins to the backswimmer and boatman families and by large I mean these imitations should be tied on a size 2 or 4, 3 XL hook with the width of foam being ½ to ¾ of an inch wide.
I have saved my favorite for last, STREAMER fishing!!!!! I love tying and fishing streamers more than anything and I am a confirmed streamerholic, thanks to Joseph D. Bates’ book “Streamers and Bucktails the Big Fish Flies”. Without a doubt a book worth reading if you can find a copy. So far my best producing streamers are the DDH Leech, DDH Minnow, The Stuvalution, GF streamer, the Cheap Date, and some miniature Clouser’s Minnows. All these flies have worked well in every trout lake I fish. I do tend to fish streamers a little differently than everyone else, let me explain; in early spring I will fish these minnow imitations from deep water to shallow while most people will fish from shallow to deep water. Stop to think of the natural movement of baitfish in the spring, they are moving from deep water to the shallow warm water so why fish your imitation in the opposite direction of the natural movement. After the first week of June I do the opposite from shallow to deep, once again this is the natural movement of the forage fish weather it’s Stickleback, Chubs, or Daces they all do the same thing. In the heat of the summer you can take trout on streamers if you get the fly down but remember one thing. The water is warmer and well above the trout’s preferred water temperature which will put a great amount of stress on the fish and the ensuing fight could kill it. Not worth doing! In the fall I fish streamer patterns the same way as the spring and get the same results.
Now here is a tip that I learned from Trout and Salmon magazine back in 1976, and boy do the Brits know what they are talking about. I read an article about a gentleman who fishes nothing but flies with orange in them and was he hammering Browns and Rainbows. Being a young lad of 21 I thought if he can do it why not me. Since that time, 37 years worth, I have fished flies with orange in them during autumn and I can attest to the effectiveness of these patterns.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention what time of day that I fish during spring, summer, and fall. In spring and fall I tend to sleep in a bit and I’m happy to be on the water at 9:00 A.M. I know that a lot of people will say why not get there earlier. Remember the temperature of the water and how cold it gets, well the water starts to warm up at 9 and will continue to do so until 1 or 2:00 P.M. As the water warms the fish become more active and start feeding late morning to early afternoon. My day is usually finished at 4:00 P.M. For the summer months the opposite is true, I start at 4:00 A.M. and fish until 9:00 A.M. I then take a nap (after all us old guys need sleep) for a couple of hours, tie some more flies for a couple of hours, and then sit and tell tall tales with friends until the evening fish. I will fish from 8:00 P.M. until ½ hour after dark, which in Manitoba is about 10:00 to 10:45 P.M. during the summer months.
Most times a 5 or 6 weight will suffice for trout but in these lakes the trout could exceed 30 inches or approximately 14-18 pounds so I use a Streamside Tranquility 10 foot 7 weight for my trout fishing. This rod enables the angler to cast further if required and to land the fish more quickly which reduces the lactic acid build up in the fish enabling it to have a better chance at survival. I use a Prestige fly reel that has a capacity for 150 yards of backing (better to be safe than sorry) plus the fly line. It also has a really smooth drag system which will not fail if the reel gets a dunk in the water.
Leaders are a personal choice and there are numerous types for sale but this is what I do. Midge fishing I will use a tapered leader and add some tippet material to acquire the length I need to fish in the depth required. For all my other fishing situations I will use whatever length of fluorocarbon I need, in other words a chunk of mono. For nymphs I will use 8 lb test and for streamers and the predacious diving beetle fly I will use 10 or 12 pound, the length is anywhere from 3 ft. to 10 ft.
Hopefully I have given some food for thought and enjoy your fishing adventures.
Bugging For Trout??????
There will be critics, scoffers, doubters, and sceptics out there saying this is a fallacy but in actuality you can take trout on poppers. Fly fishing history tells us back in the 40’s and 50’s a deer hair mouse was essential for fly anglers to fish for Brook Trout in the northern waters of Canada and it still is an essential fly for this area. Gary Borger did an instructional tape for 3M and in this video he shows the proper casting technique for a deer hair mouse and the correct retrieve. Yes, he did catch a Rainbow on tape using the mouse. What about Fly Max Films and the episode shot in New Zealand showing the size of Rainbows and Browns coming up to a mouse popper. Still have any doubts?
What really brought this style of fishing back to the forefront was my son Kevin. Every May long weekend my son and I head up to the Manitoba Fly Fishers cabin and spend the weekend fly fishing for trout. It’s a great weekend with bragging rights for the rest of the summer. Anyway on the last night we were fishing my favourite trout lake and I was catching the odd 12 inch fish and Kevin was striking out. I think it was from desperation but Kev tied on a small pan fish popper and of course I started to laugh and told him he wouldn’t catch anything with that. Well, Kevin put on a clinic for his old man catching 17 Rainbows from 20 to 25 inches in two hours of fishing! Since that time I always carry some small poppers with me just in case.
When and how do you use these flies. Two questions that have to be understood and then answered. When do you use poppers ? There is no simple answer but I have narrowed the time down to spring and fall. The main reason for this is the Water Boatman, Backswimmer, and the Predacious Diving Beetle, or what some people call June Bugs. As fly fisher folk we know the spring time is when the Boatman and Backswimmers become very active and they will actually leave the water, fly a few feet, and then land back in the water. This activity actually leads trout to gorge themselves on these insects. This is why that small pan fish popper worked so well for my son. It was the perfect size to imitate the two smaller Corixae and the trout proved it. Usually a size 10-14 popper will work but it does have to have darker colors such as black, brown, or a dark green. One has to pay attention to what these insects are doing and where they are doing it and if you recognize this then it is pretty easy to put on a popper and start catching fish. If you don’t see any activity then I would start where there is some structure. It doesn’t matter what type it is as long as you cast towards it and retrieve in small strips making the popper move 2-3 inches then pausing, and then repeat this process. I have found that the beginning of June starts to put an end to popping for trout for the simple fact that Mayflies, Caddis Flies, and other aquatic insects start to hatch and the trout loose interest in the Backswimmers and Boatman.
The autumn fly fisher with poppers is outstanding. With the mating season for Boatman and Backswimmers starting it is easy to find the mating swarms flying over the water with hungry trout just waiting under the black trail of these insects. A black popper is dynamite in this case. But here is the real kicker, the predacious diving beetle becomes very active as well and when they hit the water it seems like a 500 lb cannon ball hitting the water. A size 4 black or dark grey popper can bring strikes that will give heart attacks to those who are faint hearted. If you noticed I didn’t say fish by structure, the reason for this is through my days on the water and my own observations these insect will usually mate over open water and the diving beetles will always land with 15 feet of the shoreline. So there is actually no need to scour the waterside structure to try and find fish, they will be where the food is. Everyone should try this because the takes are visual and vicious and nothing get the heart beating faster than a 8 pound Rainbow coming up to grab your popper.