Manitoba Hot Bite
On many of our deep clear lakes in the Northern Region, there is a prime window of opportunity in the fall where anglers can target the lake trout of a lifetime in shallow water. It is not an exaggeration at all when veteran lunker lake trout hunters recount tales of 45-inch plus trophy fish caught in water as skinny as three feet. Any chance to hook into lakers of that magnitude is a draw in and of itself. To achieve a feat that momentous by way of burning a big lure over top of a super shallow reef is the stuff casting dreams are made of.
And so, it was with high hopes of breaking personal bests and visualizing giant hooksets, that Keevin Erickson and I made the drive out to Baker’s Narrows Lodge one recent mid-October morning. Several bodies of water in the laker hotbed zone of The Pas to Flin Flon have a fall spawning closure. We timed our trip to this drive-to fishing destination to be able to head out the very first morning after it lifted on the designated areas of Lake Athapapuskow.
Big fish water
Athapap, as it is better known, is well regarded as one of the premiere lake trout lakes in Manitoba, and even all of Canada for that matter. Whether you’re after huge numbers, focused on trophy-class size, or looking for a multi-species Master Angler experience, this lake is definitely one that should be on your hit list. The kicker is that there isn’t even a specific time that you need to be up here as any point in the calendar, open or hard water, has a bite going on that is incredible.
Breakfast that morning was filled with excitement and anticipation at the lodge clubhouse. We met Steve and Koos from Regina who spent the previous two days chasing monster northern pike. A 43-inch beast was a new personal best for Koos which was just one of dozens of toothy gators that they hooked into. Turning their attention to lake trout for their last day in camp, they too were chomping at the bit to cast a line into the water.
What gear to use for shallow lake trout
Keevin and I made sure to pack big fish gear and tackle. Armed with medium-heavy and heavy action 8-foot rods spooled with 50lb braid and 25lb fluorocarbon leader, we weren’t taking any chances just in case a new lake record fish was to smash our lure. Head Guide and local legend John Wolters was adamant that the next provincial record lake trout would be caught right here on Athapap one day soon (54” Nueltin Lake – 2001/49” Lake Athapapuskow – 1992).
Lodge operator Brett Baynton was our guide on this trip and he expertly glided us in silently to the very top of a massive reef that has been a go-to spot for them the last few years. The need for fluorocarbon line was evident as soon as we looked down into the crystal-clear water and could pick out individual pebbles in between the large boulders and rocks. With the boat ‘spot-locked’ on 5 feet of water depth, and in the midst of freezing rain and wind howling, we began fan-casting furiously all over the place.
Some of my favourite lures to cast when targeting shallow lake trout are large shiny spoons and giant plastic swimbaits. Brett shared that over-sized white or chartreuse tubes have proven to be the best presentation for the fall lakers on this lake. Stubborn like most anglers are when it comes to their own confidence lures, I still chose to tie on a long white swimbait that has never failed me for big lake trout on other waters. After several frustrating follows to the boat of what looked to be gigantic lake trout, I was digging into my tackle bag.
Big fish on!
It was then that Brett shouted out “See them! There’s a group swimming toge…”. He wasn’t able to finish his sentence as his heavy action rod double over like it had just snagged a sack of potatoes. The fight was on right at boat side as the huge lake trout began peeling line off the reel to get away. It broke the surface twice, apparently just so we could get a clear look at it before Brett’s line broke with the all-too familiar thwack! echoing across the lake. “And that gentlemen, is how not to reel in a personal best lake trout,” a dejected Brett bemoaned.
My own personal best laker sits at 40-inches with Keevin’s being 36-inches. We both could very easily attest that the classic ‘fish that got away’ in this case was in the 40 to 43-inch range, well beyond the 35-inch Master Angler benchmark. Lesson learned the hard way was to ensure that all of our drags were set properly. Shallow lake trout are known to make off like a bullet to deeper water when they know that they are on a hook.
Huge lake trout
The only other boat on the reef with us was were our new buddies from Saskatchewan. After Steve’s own failure to see a big trout hookup to completion, Koos’ reel buzzed with line flying off like crazy. After an intense fight with half-numb fingers from the cold, guide John scooped a monster lake trout into the net. Congratulations were in order when the fish measured at 40-inches on the bump board, a new personal best for him.
We watched in envy from our front row seats only a few feet away. While we were able to boat a few smaller lake trout before the day was done, those weren’t the target on this trip. With the forecast calling for way milder conditions the next day, we had that and the hope of landing a record fish to look forward to.
Hanging out at the main lodge, we swapped customary fish stories with other guests while skillfully watching both an NFL game and NHL tilt at the same time on the 80-inch screen TV. We were even able to get in a few games of pool and table tennis as though we weren’t exhausted from the musky fishing-like effort on the water. Getting some much-needed rest after was luxurious in their comfortable log cabins complete with kitchen, full bathroom, cable TV, and perfect WiFi.
One more kick at the can
We headed out with John on Day 2 with a plan to head to the same area. We had seen way too many lunker lake trout with our own eyes to not try and get them to bite this time around. Several other boats made the long trek to ‘the reef’ with the improved conditions. We were barely half-a-dozen casts into the day when our new friends from Calgary in the boat beside us yelled out “Fish on!” We pulled our lines out of the way to do our part in getting out of the way of the fish who was zigging and zagging all over the place at high-speed.
Congratulations went out once again from our boat to another angler as the 39-inch beast shattered Jeff’s previous personal best lake trout by a wide margin. No sooner had we resumed casting when Brett’s son Brody was hooked up on another huge looking fish. This fish meant business as it was all Brett could do to keep up with the electric trolling motor on step. We joined them on the adventure out to deeper water in eager anticipation of what size of fish could do this. In what will haunt the father and son duo, at least until ice-up, was yet another possible fish-of-a-lifetime that didn’t make it into the net. This time, one last burst of energy from the fish beneath the boat was enough to pop the hook out.
For our efforts, Keevin and I caught a pile of smaller by comparison lake trout over the course of the trip. Exploring other areas on the lake, there were seemingly endless schools of feisty lakers that had no issue annihilating our tubes and swimbaits. We had a couple close calls of big fish of our own to rue, but alas that’s often what keeps us anglers coming back time and again. There is no doubt in my mind, after what I witnessed multiple times in our short time there, that my next personal best lake trout is swimming in Lake Athapap.
HuntFishMB – Eric Labaupa