Fin + Bone 4: Four ways to Experience the Whiteshell this May long weekend

Written by Marney Blunt, Experience the Whiteshell editor, for Fin + Bone 4:

Finally it is here! The May long weekend. The start of another season of summer time lake living in the beautiful cottage country of the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Whether you’ve been coming out to the lake all winter or you’re just opening up the cabin for another season, here are some things you can do to kick off the season. I recently wrote my top four picks of things to do on the May long weekend for Fin +Bone magazine. Have a look here and have a great May long weekend:

Glassy calm waters, echoing loon calls, eagles soaring overhead, towering pine trees, the eerie howls of wolves in the distance: These are just a few of the enchanting sights and sounds that many lucky people have experienced in the Whiteshell Provincial Park over the summer season.

Glad to say I’m one of those lucky people. Growing up with a cottage in the beautiful Canadian Shield terrain of the south Whiteshell has given me plenty of opportunities to venture throughout this gorgeous part of our province.

The older I’ve gotten, the more time I’ve spent in the Whiteshell during the ‘off season’. Truthfully, I love the Whiteshell in all four seasons, 365 days of the year. I honestly couldn’t think of a time I haven’t been excited to head down Highway 44 towards the lake. But growing up, the May long weekend was always an extra special time. While I was in school, the May long weekend was always the official start of another summer season of lake living. It meant school was almost done, and it was a taste of a few of the fun and exciting adventures I would get to do all summer long.

So to give you a taste of a few great things to do during the spring and summer season in this magical land known as the Whiteshell, here’s four ways you can experience the Whiteshell this May long weekend:

McGillivray Falls.

McGillivray Falls.

Hike the Whiteshell

One of my favourite things to do in the Whiteshell during the spring is hike the McGillivray Falls trail. McGillivray Falls is a self-guided, glacier-formed trail that is potentially one of the best trails to hike during the spring season as the rapids are rushing down from McGillivray Lake into Caddy Lake. The trail is located off Highway 44 near the Caddy Lake turnoff. The trail also features a shorter 2.8 km loop or a longer 4.8 km loop.

Mild temperatures and no bugs make the May long weekend one of the best times to hit up the hiking trails of the Whiteshell, and there are several other trails you might want to check out this weekend. Another great hike is the Hunt Lake trail, which is a 12.6 km trail that edges along the outskirts of Hunt Lake and the east side of West Hawk Lake, heading north towards Indian Bay. My favourite time to do this trail is at sunset, you can get a stunning view of the sunset over West Hawk Lake from the top of a tall cliff on the east shore. Another great one to do is the South Whiteshell trail, part of the Trans Canada Trail. Last August, a new portion of this trail opened up leading from the causeway (near the Falcon Lake Marina on the south shore of Falcon Lake) through the woods behind Falcon Lake and into the secluded and picturesque High Lake.

Hunt Lake.

Hunt Lake.

Cast a line in the Whiteshell

I’ve always loved fishing at the lake, as I little girl I mastered the art of catching tiny smallmouth bass in our boathouse at Star Lake. That was really all I knew, and it was all I needed to know to have fun. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I was shown the ropes of fishing that I became, excuse the cheesy pun, completely hooked on it.

Although I still have a lot to learn, I can say one thing for sure: The May long weekend and walleye fishing just go hand-in-hand. Nothing says the start of opening fishing season like jigging for that huge master walleye or just heading out on the water to catch dinner. With a healthy population of beautiful fish, Falcon Lake is a walleye angler’s paradise. Last year, a lot of walleye were in the 23-27” range… So maybe in coming years the lake will be filled with masters, just saying. walleyeCheck out the Whiteshell Fish Hatchery

The Whiteshell Fish Hatchery is an amazing combination of history and fishery conservation. I had the awesome opportunity to tag along with some of the hatchery staff last year while they collected eggs and tagged walleye on Falcon Lake. The walleye eggs are then taken back to the hatchery where they will remain in incubator containers for about 21 days before reaching the eyed-egg stage, which last about six to ten days for walleye. The eggs then hatch into tiny fish referred to as ‘fry’, at this stage the walleye are stocked into the lakes. The survival rate for young fish at the hatchery can be 80 per cent, whereas in the wild the survival rate is one per cent.

The hatchery raises both cool water fish (walleye, northern pike, and lake sturgeon) and cold water fish (rainbow trout, brook trout, brown lake trout, arctic char, and trout hybrids including splake and tiger trout). The hatchery has big outdoor tanks where you can see a brood stock that includes brook trout, brown trout, tiger trout, and even lake sturgeon. But why am I telling you all this, get down there and check it out for yourself! One of the friendly staff at the hatchery would be more than happy to give you a tour. hatchery2 sturgPaddle the Whiteshell

I once had the opportunity to see the Whiteshell via floatplane, and it was mind-boggling how many lakes there are so close together. The Whiteshell is an endless chain of lakes just waiting to be explored. There are so many opportunities for different canoe and kayak routes, with easy portages between them. A classic and one of the most well known canoe routes is probably the Caddy Lake rock tunnels. You can rent a boat or canoe from Green Bay Resort or Caddy Lake Resort and head out through Caddy Lake and into South Cross Lake, and then through South Cross through the second tunnel into North Cross Lake. Several camping spots are located along the way and there is prime fishing in all three lakes. There are also several other lakes that are within portaging distance of this canoe route. canoe

12th Annual Falcon Lake Winter Fish-Off

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Photo by Jay Siemens.

There’s more than $40,000 in cash and prizes swimming around the depths of Falcon Lake – So why not get drop a line in and reel up some cash during the 12th annual Falcon Lake Winter Fish-Off, scheduled for Saturday, March 21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this year.

As always, all the prizes are guaranteed and the holes are pre-drilled. Catch the heaviest fish and you’re guaranteed to win $10,000 cash! Prizes are awarded down to 50th place, giving you the chance to win a variety of prizes or cash.
Photo by Jay Siemens.

Photo by Jay Siemens.

Back by popular demand, is the $50,000 Hidden Weight Contest. Simply catch one of the first 120 fish and you’re automatically entered into the contest. If your fish matches the hidden weight, you win $50,000! If nobody matches the weight, then the angler with the closest weight will receive a Frabill Headquarters six-person ice shelter.cash
The Falcon Lake Winter Fish-Off is once again proudly supporting the St.Amant Autism Program. The tournament will be donating $1 from every ticket sold, as well as all the proceeds from on-ice bait sales. In addition, St.Amant will be doing a 50/50 draw on the ice! Last year’s 50/50 winner took home $3,595 and a total of $5,824 was raised for St.Amant!

unnamedAdult tickets are $50 before March 11, then $70. Second hole and kids are just $30. You can purchase tickets at 13 ticket vendors across Manitoba and NW Ontario, online at www.winterfishoff.com or over the phone at toll-free 1-866-676-FISH (3474).

To get your ice fishing-stoke on, check out this short ice fishing documentary, filmed at last year’s Falcon Lake Winter Fish-Off.

– Compiled by Andrew Klassen & Marney Blunt.
– Photos by Jay Siemens.
– Video by Marney Blunt.

2015 Whiteshell Winter Wonderland Bucket List

IMG_0535 copyWinter is officially here… And we Manitobans can make it through this. Although the past few weeks have been surprisingly mild, you may be waiting for the times where you’ll be scraping your car windows, getting stuck in the deep, heavy snow, or freezing at the bus stop. However, as stated once before on this blog, winter rules in the Whiteshell, and we’re not just saying that. Some even say winter is their favourite season at the lake. Winter is what you make it, and the Whiteshell has endless opportunities for fun winter activities in the most beautiful and scenic place in Manitoba. So instead of staying cooped up inside counting down the days until the snow melts, bundle up and venture out to the winter wilderness wonderland of the Whiteshell, where winter truly rules. To kick off a season of winter fun, here is our 2015 Whiteshell Winter Wonderland Bucket List: Continue reading

Fathers, Family, Fishing, & Falcon…

Have you got plans for Dad this Father’s Day weekend? Well, it just-so-happens that this weekend is Father’s Day and Manitoba’s Family Fishing Weekend! The perfect scenario!20ColesBigWalleye copyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFamily Fishing Weekend, June 14 and 15, allows everyone to head out to the water and try out fishing – No fishing licence required! This is an excellent way for the entire family to spend the Father’s Day weekend fishing with Dad. It’s also a great weekend for anyone who wants to try out the sport of fishing for the first time – Free of charge!

 

Continue reading

Bass Fishing in the Whiteshell

By: Jeff Gustafson

As someone who loves to fish and be on the water, growing up in Northwestern Ontario was great because there was never a shortage of top-notch fishing opportunities outside my door – I grew up with a fishing rod in my hand throughout all seasons.

Jeff Gustafson shows off a nice Falcon Lake smallmouth.

Jeff Gustafson shows off a nice Falcon Lake smallmouth.

My passion for bass fishing and competing in tournaments first brought me to the Whiteshell region back in the early 2000’s to participate in the annual opening day bass tournament on Falcon Lake, an event that has been put on by the Manitoba Bass Anglers Association for many years.

Since the tournament always took place on the opening day of the fishing season, we were never able to pre-fish (or practice) for the event.  We just showed up the day of the tournament and went fishing.  After several years we learned the lake a little bit better and our catches went up significantly.

Eventually my friends and I started making day trips over to Falcon Lake so that we could catch a bunch of fish.  It’s funny because as many people as there are that use Falcon Lake, very few of them take advantage of the great smallmouth bass fishing available there.

The author's wife with a new West Hawk Lake smallmouth.

The author’s wife with a new West Hawk Lake smallmouth.

My experience there has always been earlier in the season, in May and June and our expectations when we go there now is that we’re going to catch big numbers of fish.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever caught 100 bass in a day there, but 50 plus fish, including some really nice ones, is quite common.  Factor in the shot at a monster pike or walleye and you have a great place to fish.

As far as location goes, it’s all about finding structure around the lake.  From a boat it does not look like Falcon Lake has a lot of structure because it is so open and exposed, but when you turn on your depth finder and watch it as you troll the shoreline it quickly becomes apparent how many little bumps and humps there are around the lake, all prime bass habitat.

Baitfish make up the bulk of the diet for all sport fish in Falcon Lake, species like shiners, perch and cisco in particular so anglers should use minnow imitating lures in their pursuit of all species.  Over the years I caught hundreds of bass on three and four inch suspending jerkbaits.  Simply cast them out and work them back to the boat in a jerk-jerk-pause cadence.  Some days the fish like a longer pause, some days shorter is better.  Let the fish tell you what they want.

Across Highway 1 to the north is another gem of a lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park.  West Hawk Lake may very well be the deepest lake that I have ever been on in my life.  It’s deep, cold, clear water is not the best bass habitat but the many shallow bays that surround the main basin of the lake provide plenty of good water for bass to live.  Much like Falcon, local anglers are much more interested in the walleye and lake trout that live on the lake than they are in the bass population.

A quick screen shot shows how deep the water is in the middle of West Hawk Lake. Those are lake trout, shown suspended on the screen.

A quick screen shot shows how deep the water is in the middle of West Hawk Lake. Those are lake trout, shown suspended on the screen.

The secret to finding bass on West Hawk is to find stretches of shoreline in these bays that have a sand or boulder bottom composition.  These are going to be shallower stretches of water that much of the smallmouth bass’s forage prefer.  Much like Falcon, many types of baitfish are prevalent in West Hawk so minnow imitating baits are best.

For anglers looking to visit the Whiteshell Park, I assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the beauty in the scenery or the fishing opportunities that await.  Fishing licenses can be purchased at the gas station in the heart of the town of West Hawk, one of prettiest little communities you will ever visit during the summer months.  Out of province anglers should know that Manitoba has a province wide barbless hook rule in effect, so if you visit these lakes, remember to pinch your barbs.

Today, Jeff Gustafson makes his living as a professional bass tournament angler, fishing tournaments across the United States on the Walmart FLW Tour. He is also host of his own TV fishing show called Fishing with Gussy, an active outdoor writer and photographer as well as an all-season fishing and hunting guide.  You can find him online at www.gussyoutdoors.com 

Jeff Gustafson on-stage at a 2013 FLW Tour bass tournament.

Jeff Gustafson on-stage at a 2013 FLW Tour bass tournament.