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New opportunities, fish that haven't seen a lure in 2 years, await U.S. anglers in Canada

Whether it's open-water fishing on Lake Winnipeg or winter ice fishing adventure on a remote lake trout lake, opportunities abound

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The open-water bite on Lake Winnipeg has added a new dimension to his guiding business, said Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats Outfitter in East Selkirk, Manitoba. "And the Americans have been just itching to come up," Pearase said.
Contributed / Donovan Pearase
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GRAND FORKS — Anglers who venture north to wet a line in Canada this year could be in for some pleasant surprises when they cross the border.

Nowhere, perhaps, is that more apparent than Manitoba, where Lake Winnipeg has turned into an open-water fishing hotspot in the past couple of years.

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The lake they call “Big Windy” is long renowned as an ice fishing destination for its big walleyes, known as “greenbacks” for their iridescent bluish-green color unique to the species in Lake Winnipeg.

Historically a commercial-netting fishery, an open-water bite for greenbacks has developed in the past two years, said Donovan Pearase, a fishing guide who owns Blackwater Cats Outfitter in East Selkirk, Manitoba.

Strict border-crossing requirements remain, but Canadian fishing camps and lodges are anticipating their first full summer since 2019.

The new opportunity on Lake Winnipeg has added “probably 30%” to his business, Pearase said, helping to offset the loss of American anglers who make up nearly all of his winter guiding business but couldn’t cross the border during the first year-and-a-half of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“It’s been absolutely booming,” he said. “It has actually been full schedules in the spring and fall with the local clientele – and the Americans have been absolutely itching to come up.

“Nothing we do on the ice holds a candle to what we do on the open water in the spring and the fall – for numbers and size.”

Meanwhile, anglers visiting Canadian resorts and outpost camps that rely almost exclusively on American visitors will encounter fish that haven’t seen many lures – if any – in two years.

After two years of basically zero fishing pressure, “you can just imagine these lakes,” said Wayne Clark of Clark’s Resorts and Outposts near Vermilion Bay, Ontario.

“I mean, it’s crazy fishing – unbelievable,” he said. “So, if there’s one positive thing that’s come out of this, it’s the fishing.

“You can just imagine, giving these lakes almost two years of rest.”

Clark’s offers a remote ice fishing adventure for lake trout at Anishinabi Lodge, a fly-in camp accessible in winter by a 40-mile snowmobile ride. Staff from Clark’s accompany visitors on the snowmobile ride to the lodge, which is situated on a 5-acre island on Anishinabi Lake, and start a fire in the cabin’s wood stove and help them get set up.

“If they happen to use one of our snowmobiles, we stay with them for the duration of their visit,” Clark says.

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Two permanent fish houses with heaters are set up on the lake in good fishing spots, Clark says. A generator supplies power to the cabin, and a cell phone booster allows visitors to communicate with the base camp.

“Once we spend three-four hours with them, then we can leave them there and then we just make sure they get out at a certain time,” Clark said.

Three groups from the U.S. have come up to fish lake trout at Anishinabi Lodge in the past three weeks and had no problems crossing the border, Clark says.

“We took them up there, and they had a great time,” he said. “You stay right on the island there, and it is one heck of a trip if you like the snowmobile ride and the privacy of being up there on your own on an island.”

The first group, from Minnesota’s Iron Range, caught 93 lake trout averaging at least 8 pounds, Clark says, most of which were released.

“To catch big fish between 26 and 35 inches on a regular basis, that is crazy fishing,” Clark said. “It’s fun.”

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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