Parkland: Trout and More
You wish those moments would last forever.
You've got your first fish on the fly rod that you bought with a song. Sold your soul, literally. The bloodsucking leech on the end of your line is peeling out fast, hitching a ride on the maxillaries of a 30 inch splake, while ten meters of fly line balled up in an enigma, approaches your reel at top speed, quite likely to be playing a few notes of Hank William's 'Lovesick Blues' soon. In E flat of course. Your line goes slack but your mind is far from that, jacked on a cold mix of adrenaline and other naturally manufactured compounds. Your vista is as chronically beautiful as it is ecologically complex. It is October. You are in Manitoba's Parkland and as they say, 'it doesn't get much better than this...'
From 1990 to 2005, I was employed as a provincial fisheries technician in this area where I managed and studied fish populations. Sweet. A real honor. In particular and as part of my duties assigned, I snuggled up to the trout stocking program. Intimate knowledge of the Parkland lakes' processes was gathered over the years, paralleled by a path straight to fly fishing. Man, it was inevitable. A no-brainer.
There are some very special water bodies in the Parkland and they all grow salmonids real fast. Some faster than others. As long as you can measure harvest, estimate natural mortalities and match this to your stocking rates, things will be good. You really have to know your lakes though. This is very important. Knowledge garnered carefully and used correctly is the essence of all things practical.
There are two kinds of trout lakes in Manitoba's Parkland.
The more pristine, oligotrophic lakes of the Duck Mountains are cool and clear due to elevation and semi-solitary confinement from human activity (Childs, Laurie, Gull, Glad, Perch, East and West Blue, etc.) .
The other types are the eutrophic, mountain periphery lakes south and west of the Duck and Riding Mountain escarpments (Twin, Spear, Tokaryk, Patterson, East and West Goose). These lakes are generally shallower, warmer and subsequently more productive than the upland lakes. What this essentially means is both kinds of lakes grow huge trout. The periphery lakes just do it faster. Up to 1.5 kilograms per year. Conservatively speaking.
There is a double-edged sword angle to all this however.
The warmer nutrient rich lakes have a tendency to winter-kill on a regular basis. This normally occurs because of dangerously low dissolved oxygen levels during the ice-over months. Some lakes even experience summer-kill due to super-saturated, critically warm water conditions. This can also lead to algae bloom related mortalities. However, in recent years these mortalities have been dramatically reduced by either adjusting aeration regimes or simply walking away from lakes with chronic problems.
As a matter of fact, of the six mountain periphery lakes listed above, only Tokaryk does not currently have an aeration system. Some would argue that Tokaryk too, suffers from such limnological ailments on occasion.
Being an avid angler, I can really appreciate the variety of the trout and trout hybrid species available to anglers of the Parkland. Big time kudos to our Fish Culture program for supplying a world class product under rigid boundaries.
Every spring, summer and fall I pined for those deliveries of lake trout (Clearwater Lake strain), brook trout (Gods River and South Duck River strains), rainbow trout (Spring Valley B.C strain, with a touch of steelhead), brown trout (ZMA via Mass. USA), splake (lake trout X brook trout), spar (arctic char X brook trout) and tiger trout (brown trout X brook trout). I still do. So now I find myself planning my own trips. Back to fish the Parkland. The same way hundreds of times before that visiting fly fishers in the parkland would relate to me over and over again. They'd wonder how I could stand living smack dab in the middle of a dozen of the best stillwater trout lakes in mid-western North America, all within one hour's drive of my house. But I don't anymore.
So here it is. Here is what I hope is the minimum amount of time I spend fly fishing for trout in Manitoba's Parkland on a per year basis. Each trip should be a minimum of one week in duration. One week in the spring. Repeat in the fall. This is what I would do. There are many other options.
For spring time, I like the first two weeks of June. That way I can fish both periphery lakes and upland lakes at or near their peaks. For fall I would go the last week of September and first week of October. Then I can add lake trout on the fly to the list.
I bring a couple 9' 7 wt rods for all lakes and a little 8' 5 wt if I'm going to stream fish (Pine River, Big Boggy Creek). I bring a large and a medium arbor reel with spools of fly lines covering medium to slow sinks plus a floating line. For streams I go exclusively floating line.
I bring all size flies in all colors and variations, covering the four basic food groups of Parkland trout. Flies akin to scuds, boatmen, leeches and fathead or stickleback minnows will eventually get you into fish. I will either camp or stay in decent motels when I go. Both options are available throughout the area.
I will spend the first 3.5 days in the Duck Mountains. I will have arranged for local spies to report break-up times and lake turn over status (spring) and local weather conditions before I 'pin-point' arrival. I will want to fish the Duck Mountain Lakes pre-turnover. I will try Laurie Lake for massive browns and splake if I can arrange for a boat to transfer me and my kick boat to warmer parts of the lake. Warm water=active fish. Gull Lake has to be done, maybe even two of the days. Brook and rainbow trout, the hybrids splake and spar all reside in good numbers and sizes. Plus decent whitefish. If one day the wind rules, I'll go to Perch Lake, a refuge from the wind and one of the regions only complete catch and release lakes. Good for brown trout and smallmouth bass.
The three and a half days are up. It is time to move south, but on-route an afternoon/evening on Twin Lake is in order. The newest catch and release fishery just a few miles west of Childs Lake also has the Parkland's first tiger trout population. I won't be disappointed.
Next it is off to Roblin to fish East and West Goose Lakes. Which ever one is hotter, that is where I'll go. Again, spies will be utilized. Just north of Russell I will hit Spear Lake for a late afternoon and evening (bows and browns). I will finish the tour at Patterson and Tokaryk Lakes, north of the town of Oakburn. For rigorous large bow and brown trout action, these two lakes being only a mile apart are hard to beat.
One week in the spring, repeat in the fall.
Obviously I can't fit all the technical information and other pertinent details to have a successful trip fly fishing in the Parkland in this article. See the links provided below for that. This is meant to be more of a primer. A kick start.
Back to that 30 inch splake.
I did hear the 'Lovesick Blues' in E flat. Two verses and a chorus in fact. As that Gordian knot exploded in my reel I was neither dejected nor perturbed. I simply drifted along with the look when the smile meets the eyes.
Mission accomplished. It can be that simple sometimes.