Home waters: a Winnipeg River fishing adventure

by Jeff Gustafson | March 13, 2020
a couple holding fish in a boat on the water

You would think somebody like me, who makes a living in the fishing industry, would have spent at least some time fishing the major waters within an hour’s drive of my home in Kenora. The truth is I had never tested the Minaki area of the Winnipeg River. To remedy that situation, my girlfriend, Shelby Larson, and I contacted Reid’s Birch Island Resort and made plans for a July getaway.

The next thing we knew, we’d launched into the Winnipeg River at Minaki and were sampling the smallmouth fishing, even before we’d reached the resort, appropriately located on Birch island. It was one of those dreamy summer days with bright sun, little wind, and warm temperatures. Armed with a pair of topwater poppers and some tube jigs, we quickly found that the bass fishing around Minaki was excellent. A couple of dozen fish later, we decided to head over to the resort to check in.

Lay of the land

The Winnipeg River starts in Kenora and is the main outflow of Lake of the Woods, before it eventually dumps into Lake Winnipeg. This section of river, stretching from Kenora to the Whitedog Dam, is about 75 kilometres long and includes several large lakes, including Sand, Middle, and Gun.
Growing up, I had Lake of the Woods right outside my door, so I didn’t fish the Winnipeg River.

A few years ago, I finally got out on the river just north of Kenora and was shocked at the number and size of the smallmouth bass. The fishing was phenomenal and I started to wonder what opportunities lay farther north, towards Minaki.

High-class hospitality

fish fingers arranged decorously on a plate

We’d heard about the fine dining at Birch Island Resort but we hadn’t expected to be served blueberry mojitos and delicious walleye fingers as appetizers before enjoying a memorable dinner.

This is not your average fishing resort; it has fine dining, the landscaping is beautiful, and the accommodations are high-end. It was the perfect place for the romantic fishing trip Shelby and I were looking for.

Focusing on smallies

The next morning we were greeted by another perfect day and a great breakfast. Most folks visit the Winnipeg River for its famous walleye and muskie fishing, but as we were discovering, the smallmouth should not be overlooked. We cruised north to the Big Sand Lake area. I had heard that, in addition to great bass fishing, Big Sand has some of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.

We started fishing on the first stretch of boulder-covered shoreline we could find and immediately began catching two- to four-pound smallmouth. Boulders along the shoreline can indicate a rocky bottom as well, and if some weeds are mixed in, even better. The topwater strikes were so violent it was as if these fish had never seen a lure before, which might have been the case.

Some highlights

We stuck with topwater baits because they’re both effective and fun. When we missed a fish or felt like it was a sweet spot, like a point that could be holding multiple fish, we’d try a few casts with a brown tube or Ned rig to emulate the crayfish these fish were eating. It was some of the most fun I’ve had fishing in a long time, with one of the highlights being a muskie that followed Shelby’s bait late in the day. We caught smallmouth bass all morning, with a few pike and walleye mixed in, then decided to take a break for lunch and cool off with a swim.

We chose a perfect white sand beach with a backdrop of massive red pines — one of those places that really makes you feel alive. Our trip continued with a couple more days of fantastic fishing. We ate well and enjoyed the superb accommodations that make Birch Island Resort a top-notch Winnipeg River getaway.

a map of Ontario featuring directions

Contact: Call Phil or Liz-Ann Reid at Reid’s Birch Island Resort, at 807-224-3471. You can email them here or visit the website here.

Originally published in the Ontario OUT of DOORS 2019 Fishing Annual.

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