Manitoulin Island: Angling opportunities abound

by Bob McGary | March 13, 2024
Manitoulin Island travel destination travelling fishing destination fishing spots

Standing with my wife, Lois, on the shore of Lake Mindemoya, we watched fish breaking the calm lake surface. It had been more than 20 years since my last visit to Manitoulin Island but finally, I had returned.

It took me a couple of minutes to realize an insect hatch was underway. Several big shad flies perched on the boat seats were more evidence of that. This walleye-and-perch food bonanza could be both a blessing and a challenge.

The last time we visited Mindemoya, our reward for a morning of early July fishing was a limit of eating-size walleye. This trip was in late June, so we hoped the timing would provide us with consistent action. Dave Patterson, a highly respected angler and production manager for the Manitoulin Expositor newspaper, had offered to take us out for an evening fish.

Heading out from the launch ramp to our first spot, Patterson told us that only a few nights earlier he and his wife had caught and released several walleye using bottom bouncers and worm harnesses. Our strategy would be to use an electric motor and move back and forth over a shoal with good perimeter weed growth.

The sonar showed hooks indicating good-sized walleye both on bottom and suspended but getting them to cooperate was going to be a little more challenging. Lois caught a few nice 10 to 12-inch perch, but walleye weren’t biting. It was only our first evening, so we weren’t disappointed with more outings planned over the next few days. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on Lake Mindemoya and the Manitoulin magic was just beginning to evolve.

Island geography

Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world. Located at the northern end of Lake Huron, this land of gently rolling, rocky terrain scattered with forest and farmland is home to 108 lakes. An excellent road network covers the 160-kilometre length of the island and serves the permanent population of almost 15,000 people. Driving from one community to a lake at another location is an absolute pleasure, with little traffic to contend with.

The major town, Little Current, is located at the northeast corner of the island and linked to the mainland by Highway 6 and a swing bridge. This is the only direct access for vehicles. Other population centres include Mindemoya, Gore Bay, Kagawong, Manitowaning, M’Chigeeng, and Wiikwemkoong. The economy relies significantly on outdoor recreation and as a result, services and amenities are excellent. There are many highly rated shopping areas, restaurants, and resorts located throughout Manitoulin.

Lake Manitou

Manitou, the largest lake on Manitoulin, has the unique distinction of being the largest freshwater island lake in the world. Its name is derived from the Ojibwe word for a spirit or power being. It has 140 kilometres of shoreline and depths of more than 150 feet, making it the deepest lake on the island. A number of shoreline resorts are available for family stays.

The first time I fished Manitou 20 years ago, I had the privilege of sharing a boat with legendary guide Jack Hayes. We spent a late June morning vertical jigging in 50 to 60 feet of water. His custom-made bucktail jigs were a favourite for lakers. We finished with five trout between three to six pounds. Hayes had no trouble convincing me Manitou was a special lake. When I returned this time, I contacted Kevin Hutchinson, a respected local angler whose family owned a lodge on Manitou.

“My father started selling bait out of his house at Sandfield at five years of age almost 90 years ago,” he said.

Manitou has historically been the most popular lake on Manitoulin, Hutchinson added. It is deep enough to support a healthy lake trout population and provides plenty of opportunity for whitefish, smallmouth, perch, and walleye. The big lake has many islands and shoals with plenty of structure for a variety of species. There are three public launches and more at resorts.

Lake Mindemoya

Mindemoya runs a close second to Manitou in popularity based on accessibility and its long-term track record for walleye, perch, whitefish, smallmouth, and northern pike. There are many resorts on the lake and we had the good fortune to stay at Pirates Cove Cottages (www.manitoulin- island.com/piratescove) on the south shore, a five-minute drive from the village of Mindemoya. Just behind our excellent two-bedroom cottage is Brookwood Brae Golf Course, also part of the resort. The public launch ramp is less than one kilometre away with docking facilities available at the resort.

Lake Mindemoya is about eight kilometres long and six kilometres wide. Depths average about 30 feet.

“Walleye action is best in May and June until the fly hatch and peaks again in October and November. Perch fishing in the fall can be excellent. The perch average 12 inches and are true jumbos,” Patterson said.

Neil Debassige is the host of Wild TV Network’s Fuel the Fire TV and owner of Island Sunrise Cottages on Mindemoya.

“The smallmouth bass fishing is excellent. July and August are prime time to fish the shoals with plastics and dropshot rigs,” said Debassige, who also operates a charter fishing business including salmon/trout guiding out of Providence Bay.

Lake Kagawong

Kagawong is the second largest of the inland lakes. It is deep enough on the east side (100 feet) to support whitefish but most of the lake averages 30 to 40 feet. Kagawong has a great variety of structure and supports a good population of walleye, perch, pike, and smallmouth.

“Smelt and yellow perch are the food base for walleye so most anglers in May and June troll minnow diving lures that track at about 20 to 25 feet,” retired Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) Conservation Officer Ian Anderson said. “Walleye will average three to six pounds with some in the 10 to 12-pound range,” he added.

Excellent action for smallmouth is available in the summer and good perch can be had year-round.

Lake Huron

The north end of Lake Huron adjacent to the southern shoreline of Manitoulin supports an excellent trout and salmon population. Patterson coordinates the yearly Manitoulin Expositor Salmon Classic, a great opportunity for local and visiting anglers. One of Patterson’s friends, Moe Gauthier, operates Screamin’ Reels Charters (screaminreels.ca) out of South Baymouth. His charter schedule is usually heavily booked, but Moe was able to squeeze us in for an evening.

Our plan was to start about two kilometres from shore in 60 feet of water. Huron has significant underwater structure that concentrates fish in certain productive areas. Lake and rainbow trout, as well as coho, pink (Pacific), and Chinook salmon are part of the daily catch. “There’s always great action here since the structure helps form current which in turn attracts baitfish and predators,” Gauthier said.

It didn’t take long for one of the downrigger rods to fire and Moe passed the rod to Lois. After a brief but spirited encounter, the five-pound lake trout was netted by Gauthier. “That one is going onto the barbecue when we get home,” Lois said.

Within the hour, I landed another laker and asked Moe about his salmon season. “The salmon and trout fishing has been excellent and we’re seeing a lot more alewife in their stomachs, probably the most in 15 years,” he said.

Just as we finished our conversation, the rigger went off and a four-pound Atlantic salmon joined the party. Gauthier told me some days you can try for the grand slam on Chinook, coho, pink, and Atlantics.

Salmon and trout fishing on Huron usually starts in June and continues through September. Most anglers fish out of Providence Bay, South Baymouth, Wiikwemkoong, and Little Current. Major spawning runs occur in the east end of Manitoulin in the Kagawong, Manitou and Mindemoya rivers, and Blue Jay Creek.

North Channel

The part of Lake Huron between the Manitoulin and north to the mainland is home to an array of angling opportunities.

“There are lots of species to keep all anglers happy,” Anderson said.

Rainbow trout and lake trout are particularly abundant both east and west of the channel in Little Current. Largemouth are found in MacGregor Bay, and huge smallmouth weighing as much as six pounds can be caught nearly everywhere. An excellent walleye fishery is available from Little Current all the way to the Spanish River on the north shore.

“The walleye fishing in the North Channel is excellent and comparable to Lake Erie,” Patterson said. “All year classes are represented including fish over 10 pounds.”

Bottom bouncing in 18 to 25 feet of water early in the year and 30 to 40 feet in the fall is effective. Visitors to the Manitoulin always comment about how friendly everyone is on the island. Combine that with great scenery, lots of activities, and outstanding fishing and its easy to see why this is a destination not to be missed.

Places to visit on Manitoulin

Manitoulin Island fishing bridal veil falls waterfall Manitoulin Island

Bridal Veil Falls: Located at Kagawong, this stunning waterfall has an excellent viewing area and photo opportunities

Providence Bay Beach: A long sandy beach on Lake Huron’s crystal-clear water. Relatively uncrowded and great for walking

Cup and Saucer Trail: An excellent hiking trail across part of the Niagara Escarpment with amazing lookouts. Offers trails with varying levels of difficulty

South Baymouth: The scenic ferry terminal, port, and light house offer a variety of activities including excellent photo opportunities

Wiikwemkoong: The only officially recognized unceded Indigenous Territory in Canada

Up Top Sports Shop: A family-owned business in Mindemoya for more than 100 years. An amazing store for fishing gear and info

Originally published in Ontario OUT of DOORS’ 2023 Fishing Annual 

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